JFJ has questions about Jamaica’s new Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs

In the recently reshuffled Cabinet, a whole new Ministry was created. Environment and Climate Change was kicked to the kerb (as I mentioned earlier) and a new Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs was set up, to be headed by former Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte. The new Attorney General, Dr. Derrick McKoy, is a former Contractor General, and he is not a politician. He will not sit in Parliament.

Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte.

Minister Malahoo Forte made it clear in Parliament this week that she wants to ensure things are done properly. Laws should not be rushed through at the last minute. There must be timelines. Quite a few laws are still stuck in the nineteenth century.

And what of human rights? Minister Malahoo Forte says that “a comprehensive review of the Laws of Jamaica to make them compliant with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms” should have already happened. JFJ has been calling for a National Human Rights Institution (which then Minister of Justice Mark Golding spoke about back in 2014) for quite a long while now.

Human rights lobby group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) has some questions and concerns, and here is their recent press release:

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) has taken note of Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ recent announcement regarding the establishment of the Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs.  

Based on the government’s statement, the newly created ministry’s focus areas are constitutional reform, legal education, legal reform and protection of human rights. The new ministry, which is led by former Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, will also oversee the Law Revision Secretariat, the Legal Reform Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.  

With this renewed emphasis on matters relating to justice and with a stated objective of the protection of human rights, JFJ would like to reiterate calls for the establishment of the long promised National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). We believe the establishment of the NHRI should be a priority of the newly created ministry and the country at large. We therefore ask the Government to clarify that the plans for the NHRI will not be shelved due to the establishment of this new ministry, or worse, that this new Ministry will possibly replace the long awaited NHRI.  

 JFJ notes that the establishment of the NHRI is long overdue and is urgently needed as we seek to review and bolster the mechanisms to promote and protect human rights within our evolving society. The National Human Rights Institution will play a crucial role in promoting and monitoring the effective implementation of international human rights standards at the national level and across state agencies. In addition, it will provide a redress mechanism for Jamaicans who experience rights violations.  

 Given that an expected function of the long promised NHRI is to conduct public education on human rights, we note with curiosity that the said function is seemingly a part of the mandate of the newly established ministry.  Again, we seek surety that the new Ministry will not delay or replace the establishment of an NHRI. Rather, we call on the government to establish the NHRI, and in doing so, ensure the institution’s independence is constitutionally safeguarded from Executive control. Only then can the protection of human rights of all Jamaicans be truly realized.  

While the organisation welcomes the government’s renewed commitment to constitutional and legal reform, we trust that the desired objectives are not for the purposes of allowing the routine use of emergency powers as a ‘crime-fighting’ strategy or motivated to removing the two-third majority vote in Parliament that is needed for effective checks and balances.    

JFJ would also like to seek clarity regarding how this newly established ministry will differ in function from similar government ministries and offices, namely that of the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office. In the same vein, we would like to raise other questions about the newly established ministry:   

Will the resources channelled into making the new ministry fully functional address some of the underlying challenges to fast-tracking legal reform and passage of long overdue pieces of legislation?  

 Does the establishment of this new ministry represent the best use of resources?  Or would these resources be better served in placing additional support staff to bolster the efforts of existing departments?   

Would the training and recruitment of drafters be a better and more economical option to address draft Bills languishing away rather than establishing an entirely new Ministry?  

Would the resources allocated to the creation of this new ministry have been better served by the establishment of the NHRI? 

 Jamaicans for Justice notes that the intent of these raised questions is not to be adversarial but to ensure that the Ministry is able to effectively address the underlying issues plaguing legal reform over the years.   

We remain committed to dialoguing with the Government as it implements a defined roadmap towards improving the legislative process and adherence to human rights standards. 

For further information contact:  

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) – (876) 755-4524  

Human rights advocacy in Jamaica is as critical as ever.

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