Mon | May 27, 2024

Opposition expressed grave concern from first reading of the bill

Published:Saturday | April 20, 2024 | 12:10 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Julian Robinson
Julian Robinson
Delroy Chuck
Delroy Chuck
Lothan Cousins
Lothan Cousins

THE CONSTITUTIONAL Court handed down a decision yesterday that the extension given to the director of public prosecutions (DPP) last year was unconstitutional.

However, the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government has argued that the court’s judgment has no direct bearing on the tenure of the current DPP, Paula Llewellyn, who they believe should continue to carry out her role as chief prosecutor of the state.

But what led to the court action brought by leaders of Opposition business in both the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament, Phillip Paulwell and Peter Bunting, respectively?

On July 25, 2023, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck tabled a bill in Parliament titled: ‘The Constitution (Amendment of Sections 96(1) and 121(1)) Bill.”

The bill was intended to increase the retirement age for the DPP and auditor general to 65 years.

The justice minister, who piloted the bill and was the only Government lawmaker to participate in the debate in the Lower House, said the constitutionally established ceiling for the age of retirement for the DPP and the auditor general was five years earlier than the upper limit set in the Pensions (Public Service) Act for a public officer in the civil service.

From first reading of the bill on July 25, last year, the parliamentary opposition expressed grave concern about the Government’s approach to tabling and debating the bill the same day.

After the bill was debated, the Opposition called for a divide. When the vote was counted there were 39 ayes from Government members and eight nays from the Opposition.

Neither Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte nor Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who were in Gordon House on July 25, participated in the debate.

The following are excerpts from the debate in the Lower House on July 25:

Delroy Chuck, justice minister

“The bill before this House, Madame Speaker, reflects a proposal previously considered by the Cabinet during the deliberations on the Pensions Bill in 2017. It was the intention of the Government to amend the Constitution to give effect to the change in the age of retirement for officers so as to extend the increase in the retirement age to both the auditor general and the director of public prosecutions.

“The proposed amendment to the Constitution will allow for the expansion of the term of service from 60 to 65 years, thereby addressing the inconsistency that currently exists between the two pieces of legislation and, by extension, creating a more level playing field for all.”

Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding

“Here we have legislation tabled to amend the Constitution of the country with no prior consultation or notice other than what came today (July 25, 2023). It is irregular, it is improper, it is bad governance and we intend to vote against it for those reasons and we will also be taking legal advice as to whether what is happening here is within the Constitution.

“This is a dark day for Jamaica. I am very, very disappointed in the Government that they are proceeding in this way in a matter of constitutional importance affecting two constitutional officeholders. The appointment or extension of their tenures is something for which consultation is required, yet they are proceeding here with no consultation.”

Julian Robinson, member of parliament for St Andrew South East

“It is very important that both the perception and the reality of independence of that office and impartiality be maintained. It cannot be right for the Executive arm of the Government to be rushing through Parliament, with no notice, an extension of the officeholder of the DPP – you are compromising the independence of the office by doing so.

“The perception will arise that the incumbent, who is the beneficiary of this extension, will be somehow beholden to the Executive.”

Lothan Cousins, member of parliament for Clarendon South Western

“The approach we are taking now is totally improper and without consultation. I have to vote against it.”

Chuck said he noted the comments of the Opposition, but did not respond to the concerns.