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Fundamental Rights and Freedoms to be Refined By Dr. Lawrence A. Joseph

November 4, 2014

One of the recommendations which was submitted to the government by the Alexis review committee is in connection with refining the fundamental rights and freedoms section of the Grenada Constitution. This recommendation seems to have gone unnoticed by many but it is a most significant recommendation. Chapter 1 of the constitution deals with the protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all individuals within the society. It is generally regarded as the “Bill of Rights” section.

Section 1 of this Chapter provides that everyone is entitled to life, liberty, security of the person, protection of the law, freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association, protection for the privacy of the home and other property and from deprivation of property without compensation and the right to work. Other sections go into more details concerning those rights and freedoms and spell out the limitations.

Specifically section 13 provides that with regards to the abovementioned fundamental rights and freedoms, no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner on the grounds of race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex. It is now being recommended that the grounds be extended to include the following: “age, colour, creed, disability, ethnicity, gender, language, place of birth, place of origin, political opinions, race, religion, sex or social class”.

The following are also recommended for the consideration of the government: that it be spelt out that freedom of expression includes “freedom of the press”; “due process of law” would be guaranteed; the right to communicate with a lawyer without delay after being arrested or detained would be specified; there would be specific protection of intellectual property rights (these refer to songs, calypsos, works of art, etc.); equality as to birth in or out of wedlock would be assured; there would be the right of the child to primary and secondary education; equality for women would be guaranteed; freedom of association would include association with “political parties”; and the right to vote would be made a human right.

Besides the proposal for the expansion of the fundamental rights and freedoms in the constitution, the review committee also recommended that certain national policies should be enshrined in order to give general guidance to the state with respect to national growth and development.  A new Chapter 1A entitled “Directive Principles of State Policy” is being recommended which would set out general principles for the protection of children, women, the physically challenged, the family, the environment, food, water and health. Additionally incumbent Governments would be required to exercise fiscal responsibility and to prudently manage the economy.

All of the above recommendations have been accepted in principle by the Cabinet of the country. However it must be noted that Cabinet has the ultimate responsibility to either accept all of them, or make amendments. When a determination has been made by Cabinet, then the Attorney General’s Chambers would sign off on the relevant Bill for further consideration of Cabinet. The final draft of the Bill would then be submitted to the Clerk of Parliament for “laying on the table” of Parliament.

The next step of the process which also goes for other Bills which seek to amend entrenched provisions of the constitution is that the Bill is read for the First Time in the House of Representatives; it remains there for a period of ninety days before debate on it ensues. During the debate amendments could be made to the Bill. The Bill would then have to receive the support of a two-thirds majority of all members of the House of Representatives. When once this is achieved then it is sent to the Senate for due processing. A simple majority support in the Senate is sufficient. The Bill must then be approved by a two-thirds majority support in a referendum.

Although the number of recommended items for amending the constitution are many, the number of Bills incorporating those items may be limited to just five or six. During the referendum, voters would be required to vote either “Yes” or “No” to each Bill. The Bills are then sent to the Governor-General for her Assent accompanied by a Certificate signed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives certifying that there was compliance with section 39 of the constitution and by a Certificate signed by the Supervisor of Elections certifying the results of the referendum. Once the constitutional provisions for amending the constitution are in order, the Bills are then given the Royal Assent by the Governor-General. They are then gazetted and become Acts of Parliament. The constitution would then be eligible for being amended accordingly.

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