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New Developments: Jamaican Charter of Rights and Freedoms

After 17 years of debate and discussion, the Jamaican parliament adopted a Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms earlier this month. It will enter into force once signed by the Governor General. The adoption brings the Jamaican Constitution in line with the trend in commonwealth countries, represented by the UK Human Rights Act 1998 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Although Chapter III of the 1962 Constitution did have provisions on rights, the new Charter expands the list and adds significant detail. It clearly identifies a state duty to uphold the rights, and to some extent modernizes the previous set of rights by adding a right to a clean environment and specifically enumerating the rights of children. (There are no provisions on the disabled, however.)

The Charter confirms that the death penalty can be utilized, explicitly overruling in Section 13(8) the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Pratt and Morgan vs Attorney General of Jamaica. That case had held that holding a person on death row for more than five years was cruel and inhumane treatment; backlash against the case had led Jamaica to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Privy Council. (An attempt by Jamaica to replace the Privy Council jurisdiction with that of the Caribbean Court of Justice was later declared unconstitutional by the Privy Council in Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights Limited and Others [2005]).

Jamaica marks yet another step in the global spread of rights, and the decline of absolute notions of parliamentary sovereignty.


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