As the discussions around Barbados’ transition to a republic rages on with just five days to go before it becomes a reality, UWI law professor Eddy Ventose is insisting that the Mia Mottley administration was under no lawful obligation to consult with the public on the move.
Professor Ventose, the UWI Dean of the Faculty of Law, said Thursday while “morally and politically” Government could have decided to hold a referendum on the matter, that, too, was not a requirement.
But he suggested the rest of the region should seek to follow Barbados’ move to ditch the Queen as the head of state and elect a president.
Stating that he suspected the change to the republic will have a “profound effect on the average Barbadian”, he said he believed they will “have a sense of pride in knowing that your head of state is a citizen of Barbados, either naturalized or born in Barbados, and not somebody that they have probably never see in their lifetime and will never see”.
“That to me is something of which all Barbadians should be proud and all Caribbean nationals who live in a country where the head of state is Her Majesty the Queen should aspire to,” he said.
Professor Ventose was addressing the 20th regular meeting of the Rotary Club of Barbados in which he provided a historical overview of the changes since independence and responded to questions surrounding the change.
Thursday’s Rotary Club of Barbados meeting was likely the last time that Rotarians here would declare “toast to the Queen and Barbados” as is customary at the beginning of their meetings.
The theme of the online event was From Monarchy to Republic . . . In the Context of the Barbados Constitution.
Over the past several months, there has been opposition to the process by which the Mottley administration has gone about electing Governor-General Dame Sandra Mason as the first President of Barbados through a majority vote in a joint sitting of the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament.
Opposition parliamentarians have said that while they unanimously agreed with republic status and that Dame Sandra was the right choice as president, they have disagreed with the process for her ascension and the timing and approach towards the transition from a Commonwealth realm.
Some critics, including the founder of the political party Solutions Barbados, Grenville Phillips II, have questioned the absence of a referendum or broader consultation with the population
But Professor Ventose told Rotary members that the amendments to the Constitution to make provision for the country to become a republic were done in accordance with the law and that there were “no less than” two-thirds votes from Members of Parliament.
“So the first question is yes, Parliament lawfully and constitutionally amended the Constitution of Barbados,” he said. “The second question that arises is whether consultation was required as a matter of law. Of course, most persons will have a view as to whether or not consultation should take place generally, but whether as a matter of constitutional law was required is another matter altogether.
“As a matter of constitutional law, whether there is a requirement in the Barbados constitution to have consultations the answer is no, there is no legal requirement for consultations.”
In relation to the need for a referendum, Professor Ventose said “unlike most other Caribbean Commonwealth constitutions, the Barbados Constitution uniquely does not require a referendum for the changing of any of its provisions”.
Making reference to the recent High Court dismissal of a case brought by Phillips for a judicial review of the transition, the law professor observed that the Referendum Act was “not brought into force” and therefore there was no requirement for a referendum.
Professor Ventorse outlined that over the years as the country discussed the possibility of becoming a republic, various commissions of inquiry were carried out on the subject, including the Cox Commission that reported in 1979 and the Forde Commission that reported in 1998.
While the former commission suggested that the Queen be kept as the head of state, the latter presented overwhelming support for a president as head of state to replace the Queen.
Professor Ventose also acknowledged that several attempts have been made for Barbados to “delink in a sense, from the British Crown”.
He said: “In 2005, an act was passed in Barbados called the Referendum Act, and the date fixed for the referendum was to coincide with the General Election in 2008. However, the referendum was not held in 2008 and has not taken place at all.”