When Jamaica had temporary senators

David Ebanks reports - World at Eight, RJR, June, 1970

Debate is raging in Jamaica today regarding the appointment of senators to the Upper House of the Jamaican Parliament, in light of developments within the opposition Jamaica Labour Party.

Under the Jamaican Constitution, Prime Minister is empowered to recommend to the Governor General the appointment of 13 senators and the Leader of the Opposition, eight senators, for a 21 member chamber of review in the Upper House.

There was a time, up to 1970, at least, when there was provision for the appointment of temporary senators, to take the place of a member who was absent, perhaps on official business, for example.

This became a matter of great concern for Senator Dudley Thompson, then a member of the opposition People’s National Party, so much so, that in about June, 1970, he brought a resolution to the Senate, questioning the legality of the practice and calling for it to be abolished.

David Ebanks, RJR’s Parliamentary Reporter at the time, gave a comprehensive report on the debate.

Ebanks, in his report, said, in part:

 “Senator Thompson’s main argument was that the Constitution specifies that there shall be 21 senators only and that unless the Senator ceases, of his own will to be a senator, another cannot be appointed to replace him. He says, even when a senator is overseas, he remains a senator, and called attention to what happened in the Senate today when Senator Chin See had returned to his rightful seat and the temporary senator in his stead, Mr. Harris, was shown to the 'Distinguished Visitors' gallery. Senator Thompson says the composition of the Senate - its membership - is of vital importance to the country as constitutional change can be brought about by a two-thirds majority vote. The other method of altering the Constitution is by a referendum…"

"There was detailed reference to the document of the Constitution and the Standing Orders (of the Senate) as members sought to establish whether temporary senate appointments are contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. The Opposition said that when there is provision in the Constitution for acting appointments, it is set out specifically, in a specific manner. No such provision appears in reference to the Senate.”

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