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PURELY POLITICAL: For true Independence

Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: For true Independence

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It seems a remarkable coincidence that in the month of November marking the 47th anniversary of Barbados’ independence, Parliament has been asked to approve changes to the process of succession to the Throne in Britain.
What is even more remarkable is that on neither side of the political divide has there been an effort to show this country’s true independence with the clarion call: bring home our Constitution!
There can be no great comfort to local nationalists that, despite the recommendations of two Government-appointed review commissions, the Constitution of Barbados remains a Schedule of the Barbados Independence Order 1966 – an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament and not a statute enacted by the Parliament of Barbados.
The nearest to a call for constitutional reform was a suggestion from Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, who introduced the Succession to the Throne Bill 2013 in the House of Assembly, that as the country approached its 50th anniversary of political independence, the next national discussion should be on improving that status and looking at the issue of a republican state.
The bill, passed in the Senate last week, provides for Parliament “to acquiesce” to alterations in the law relating to the succession to the Throne, essentially to remove gender discrimination and end the disqualification arising from marrying a Roman Catholic.
The law was given Royal Assent on?April 25.
Under the Constitution, the executive authority of independent Barbados is vested in Queen Elizabeth II, and this turn of events is rooted in the Statute of Westminster 1931 – an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that established legislative equality for the self-governing Dominions of the British Empire with the UK, thereby marking the effective legislative independence of those countries.
Since 1931, after the Imperial Conferences (1926 and 1930), in particular, the Balfour Declaration, more than a dozen new Commonwealth realms (Barbados among them) have been created, all of which now hold the same powers as the UK and the former Dominions, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, over matters of change to the monarchy.
Fast forward to October 2011, when Barbados was one of 16 countries whose prime ministers signed on to the “Perth Agreement” in Australia at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which primarily replaces male preference primogeniture – under which sons take precedence over daughters in the lines of succession – with absolute primogeniture for descendants of the current Prince of Wales (later amended to include all persons in the line of succession born after October 28, 2011).
Apart from Barbados, those independent “realms” that constitutionally share the British monarch include Jamaica, The Bahamas, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis, and by convention, changes to the succession laws must be identical in, and approved by, each country, though the procedure may vary.
The British government reported that Jamaica and Belize said neither country would require domestic legislation to effect the changes as those lines were left by the respective constitutions to UK law, while Barbados and the others in the region would make their own determination.
It seems a little incongruous that at a time of Independence celebrations, Barbados is giving “assent” to changes to UK laws but did not seize the opportunity to pursue the “patriation” of the Constitution which has only briefly engaged the attention of successive administrations.
The late constitutional scholar, Professor Simeon McIntosh, described the independence constitutions for Caribbean countries as “fundamentally illegitimate”.
“The independence constitutions are Orders-in-Council of the British Imperial Parliament – amended versions of the colonial constitution, with Bills of Rights engrafted on to them. This allowed easy transition from colony to independent state. This continuity implied no important changes between the colonial and independent constitution. The parliamentary system remained virtually the same, and the constitutions, for the most part, are said to have remained monarchical.”
In 1998, the Forde Commission, chaired by former Attorney General Henry (later Sir Henry) Forde, observed that although the Constitution is an Order-in-Council by the Queen, the legal power to amend the document firmly resides in the Parliament of Barbados.
“In theory, however, it is still technically possible for the British Parliament to repeal the Barbados Independence Act which granted Her Majesty-in-Council the power to make the Barbados Independence Order,” the report noted. “This may never happen. To the extent that such legal power remains theoretically possible, it is our view that this detracts from the people’s belief in their national identity and sovereignty.
“The patriation of the Barbados Constitution is an emotional and a legal issue. In relation to the first issue, the people of Barbados in their submissions to us made clear their deep feeling that our Supreme Law has to be, in every sense of the word, indigenous and autonomous.
“There is undoubted consensus that the Constitution should be a product of the Barbados Parliament and completely Barbadian. This would rid our Supreme and Basic Law of any trace of the colonial format, remove any possible judicial or theoretical doubt about the power of the British Parliament to legislate further in relation to the Barbados Constitution and clearly signal that we are in all respects ‘firm craftsmen of our fate’.”
• Albert Brandford is an independent polical correspondent.