Jamaica became an independent nation on August 6, 1962 and that was also the date our Supreme Law, The Jamaican Constitution, came into effect. Fifty years later, there have been some changes to The Constitution, perhaps the most significant of which occurred in April 2011 when The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms came into effect.
Prior to April 2011, The Constitution included a chapter on fundamental rights and freedoms, which included the protection of the rights to life, freedom of movement, conscience, expression and association. But amendments were deemed necessary to provide more comprehensive and effective protection for the fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens.
As we reflect on our country's Independence, our motto and pledge, some aspects of the Charter are worth emphasising:
1 The right to equality before the law.
2 The right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of being male or female, race, place of origin, social class, religion and political opinion.
3 The right of every child to protection as a minor or part of family.
4 The right of every child to publicly funded tuition in a public educational institution at pre-primary and primary levels.
5 The right to protection of property to prevent compulsory acquisition without compensation.
6 The right to due process so that, if a person is charged with a criminal offence, unless the charge is withdrawn, he shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court.
7 The right to vote in free and fair elections.
8 The right to freedom of religion and to change that religion.
9 Section 18 (2) states that no form of marriage or other relationship other than the voluntary union of one man and one woman may be contracted or legally recognised in Jamaica.
10 If any provisions of the Charter is being or is likely to be contravened, that person may apply to the Supreme Court for redress.