Within a matter of days government will have in its possession draft legislation needed as the country prepares to hold a referendum to decide whether to replace the centuries’ old Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice located in Trinidad.
Constitutional law expert Dr Francis Alexis who is preparing the Bills in his capacity as the advisor to the Constitution Reform Committee (Antigua), said two of the three instruments needed to facilitate the process, will be ready by midday Wednesday.
One of the changes needed is: ”a Constitution Amendment Bill to be made an Act to amend the provisions of the Constitution on the Supreme Court Order which provides for appeals from Antigua & Barbuda to the Privy Council in London, replacing (the words) the Privy Council in London with the Caribbean Court of Justice.”
Secondly, he said, an appropriate Referendum Act is necessary.
“There is a Referendum Act on the statute book here but that is not appropriate to the needs of amending the Constitution. For example, the existing Referendum Act talks about the (Electoral) Commission but the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda puts very squarely on the shoulders of the supervisor of elections, responsibility, and sole responsibility for the conduct of a referendum to amend the Constitution,” he explained.
And thirdly, the Representation of the People Act has to be amended to provide for the referendum.
“You do have a Representation of the People Act providing for the elections of members of the House of Representatives but we will have to modify that Act and adapt it to suit the purpose of the referendum. For example, in the Act, you will find reference to elections or elections of members of the house, but a referendum is certainly not an election of members of the house…you will also find provision for nomination and references to candidates but those would not be for the referendum,” he added.
So, come next Wednesday, Dr Alexis said, the draft Constitution Amendment Bill and the proposed Referendum Act will be given to Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin.
He said the steps needed to be taken before a referendum is held make it impossible for the referendum to be conducted by June 2016, the target government announced earlier.
“When the introduction of the first reading is given in the House, 90 days must run out before the House can get into the second reading, the real debate. Then, the Bill has to go to the Senate, if it is passed in the Senate, then you have to set a timeline for the referendum.”
“Ordinarily, in general elections in the Caribbean, you might find there may be an election between 21 to 30 days after the dissolution of Parliament, it may well be that a similar timeline that might be used…but usually the date for a referendum is a matter up for change,” he said.
Government said it estimates the new timeline would shift the referendum to a date some time just before Independence on November 1st, 2016.