HONOURABLE DR. NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
AT THE THIRD SITTING OF THE FIRST SESSION
OF THE FIFTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
THURSDAY 7TH SEPTEMBER, 2023
Constitutional Review Commission
Madam Speaker, I wish to provide this Honourable House with an update on the work of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC).
Shortly after the deadline for the submission of comments to the CRC at the end of January this year, the CRC began its work to organise, analyse and address the over 460 submissions received.
Madam Speaker, the Commission has already met 15 times for 2023. I understand that most of these were in the form of all-day workshops where, on occasion, the CRC has also invited persons to address it, particularly where further clarification may have been needed to an earlier submission that persons made to the CRC.
Of special note, Madam Speaker, during the week of 24th July, the Right Honourable Sir Dennis Byron met with the Commission in person. Sir Dennis is a former President of the Caribbean Court of Justice as well as a former Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. He has been with the Commission from its launch and took a keen interest in the views of the public that were captured earlier. During his in-person meetings, however, Commissioners were able to have free and frank discussions with him and to call on his immense wealth of knowledge and experience to help confirm its research in some cases or, in other cases, to elaborate on that research before taking decisions on some of its work.
Madam Speaker, most persons would recall that immediately after the launch of the CRC, there were some initial delays with the CRC being able to commence its work due to additional requirements for getting the Commission fully resourced. Thus, in order to compensate for the setback, the CRC asked for, as was recently granted by Cabinet, an extension of the time within which to submit its report from June 2023 to December 2023.
Madam Speaker, I have been assured that the CRC is very optimistic that it will have a draft Report concluded ahead of the extended deadline.
Madam Speaker, a constitutional review exercise is, in and of itself, an extremely important undertaking. In our case in the Virgin Islands, our Constitution, which takes the form of an Order that is approved by the United Kingdom Parliament, sets out very critical parameters for the relationship between the Virgin Islands and the UK. Its sets out the functions of government that are delegated and devolved to the locally elected government, and those that are reserved for the UK’s representative in the office of Governor.
Generally, constitutions contain or are based on expressions of how a society of people agree to govern themselves; in our case, that would be a reflection of how Virgin Islanders wish for their society to be governed. In the Virgin Islands context, that would include what functions and powers they believe should be within the remit of their elected representatives, among other matters that have to do with advancing the political development of their territory. This is very important information for us to have at this stage of the constitutional review process.
Madam Speaker, we must also bear in mind that when the next Constitution Order for the Virgin Islands comes into effect, it will be in place for several years before we get another opportunity to review it again. Our current constitution has been with us for about 16 years.
Madam Speaker, it is regrettable that, given the interventions of natural disasters and the pandemic over the recent years, it was not realistic for this review to be launched before and closer to the 10-year anniversary of the Constitution in 2017.
In spite of this, I was personally very heartened to learn of the level of public interest and participation in the exercise. In particular, the CRC’s willingness to facilitate private sessions with individuals or groups proved to be very popular, with 27 such private sessions being facilitated versus 12 town hall public ones.
Madam Speaker, I know that I speak for all Honourable Members when I express appreciation to the Commissioners for their dedication and we eagerly await the fruit of their labour.
I thank you.