On Friday, Nicholson, who is the Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, pulled the surprise from his hat by moving to stall the Charter of Rights.
"Because of the kind of bill, all senators should be given time. You can't give me seven days. Sure, it has been around, but the question is have they been involved in the development of the bill. I am not saying you can't just read it; of course you can, but we have to understand what it is doing," Nicholson told the Senate.
Leader of Government Business Dorothy Lightbourne had turned up in the Senate Friday seeking to have the Charter of Rights debated and passed. Three days earlier, all 51 members who were present in the House of Representatives unanimously voted for the Charter of Rights to replace chapter three of the Constitution. On that occasion, all members of the House rose in unison to acknowledge the monumental stride that has been taken to provide greater protection of the rights of the Jamaican people.
Without suggesting the Senate should be a rubber stamp for bills sent from the House, one would have thought that Nicholson was more than encouraged by the showing in the Lower House, so much that he would have marshalled his team in the Upper House to debate and pass the Charter of Rights. That was not to be.
A wish expressed by Prime Minister Bruce Golding two weeks ago, that he wanted the Charter of Rights passed in both houses of Parliament before Parliament is prorogued seemed to have been the fly in the ointment for Nicholson. Not only did he argue that there is no rule in the Standing Order or law that would cause the process of amending to constitution to be re-started if it is not passed before the Senate rises, but Nicholson also demanded that the attorney general's department provide answers in writing.
"If there is no such rule, what is there to prevent the bill from being debated a month's time," Nicholson suggested.
One wonders if Nicholson's position is indicative of any move to suggest amendments to the Charter of Rights, which will result it being sent back to the House of Representatives. If this happens, the passage of this important first amendment could be stalled for up to one year.
Under the rules of Parliament, whenever amendments are being proposed to an entrenched section of the Constitution, three months must elapse after the bill is laid on the table of the House before second reading can take place. After second reading, another three months must pass before third reading takes place. A further three months must pass before the House can vote on the bill.
If the bill receives the minimum two-third support in the House, it is then sent to the Senate where another two-third support is required for passage. Bills leaving the House for the Senate must sit on the table of the Senate for seven days before debated. Senators, however, can agree to suspend the Standing Orders in order to consider the bill.
On Friday, the normally unaccommodating Lightbourne pulled out all the stops to secure the support of the Opposition. She outlined the nearly two-decade journey of the Charter of Rights and noted it was the work of the Government and the Opposition.
"We don't want this to be a thing of controversy," Lightbourne said. "It is nothing new to not one of those persons in this room even if that person has not sat on a committee like how it was done in the Lower House, it had general consensus and I am hoping it will have general consensus here," she added.
Lightbourne has suggested the Senate uses Thursday and Friday to consider and pass the Charter of Rights. However, Nicholson does not appear warm to the idea.
The Gavel is concerned that while he fiddles Jamaicans continue to be in a position where the fundamental rights and freedoms which people currently enjoy will remain virtually unprotected.
We believe there is absolutely no need to stall the Charter of Rights any longer. We urge Nicholson and his Opposition colleagues in the Senate not to be the pharaoh in the way of people's rights. The suggestion that the bill remain for one more month appears to be roadblock to constitutional reform.