House: emergency powers Act sparks debate
Changes to laws will offer increased public scrutiny on the introduction of emergency measures, the Premier said yesterday.
David Burt explained that the Emergency Powers Amendment Act 2020 would clarify the legal position “to ensure greater transparency in the management of affairs on behalf of the people of Bermuda”.
Mr Burt said that the legislation was designed to amend the Emergency Powers Act 1963 “to provide that regulations, orders and rules made under the Act are subject to Parliamentary scrutiny by way of the negative resolution procedure”.
A related amendment is to be made to the Statutory Instruments Act 1977 so that it applies to the Emergency Powers Act.
But members of the Opposition feared that the Bill would actually erode the level of scrutiny.
Scott Pearman, the Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, said in a statement later: “This change means that Regulations made under Emergency Powers will now be subject to a lesser form of Parliamentary scrutiny — the negative resolution procedure — rather than require full Parliamentary debate.
“In times of emergency, great powers are placed — temporarily — in the hands of Government.
“The emergency powers imposed in April allow the Government to impose severe restraints on people’s constitutional freedoms.
“It is therefore vital that emergency powers be carefully scrutinised.”
Mr Pearman told the House of Assembly that it was a “complaint” of the One Bermuda Alliance that regulations passed earlier under the Emergency Powers Act were not brought before the legislature.
He added: “The Opposition was pleased to recognise that the regulations were subsequently brought to Parliament as we say they should have been.”
The OBA MP said: “The Emergency Powers Act is one of the most powerful statutory tools that can be wielded by people on this island.
“Bermudians have seen themselves confined to their homes, they have seen the Regiment on our streets.
“This is a very, very powerful piece of legislation that can impose restraints and sanctions on our citizenry and therefore it is vital that regulations made under this act come to Parliament.”
Mr Pearman said: “It was very clear that ... the existing Bill required regulations to come to the House and be debated.”
He added that, in a negative resolution procedure, “something doesn’t have to be debated, it can just be picked up and debated if someone feels like it”.
The Statutory Instruments Act stated that where the negative resolution procedure applies, “copies of the statutory instrument shall be laid before both Houses of the Legislature as soon as practicable after the statutory instrument is made”.
It added that a message can be sent to the Governor requesting that the statutory instrument, or any part of it, is annulled, within 21 days or before the end of the third sitting day, whichever is the later.
Trevor Moniz, an OBA MP, backed Mr Pearman.
He said: “It’s of paramount importance when you’re going to be suspending people’s human rights that you have the oversight and scrutiny of the people’s representatives in Parliament.
“That is done in public, not in private, not behind people’s backs, that it is debated by the people’s representatives on the floor of the House of Assembly, which is our Parliament and this is what was not done when these original curfew and emergency powers were enacted.”
Mr Burt said it was incorrect that the existing legislation provided for mandatory debates.
He added that provisions in the Emergency Powers Act 1963 included similar wording to the negative resolutions procedure outlined in the Statutory Instruments Act 1977.
The 1963 legislation said: “Copies of regulations made under this Act shall be laid before both Houses of the Legislature as soon as practicable after they are made.”
It added that a request can be made for the annulment of the regulations within ten days.
Mr Pearman claimed that the Premier’s assertion was misleading and the language between the laws was “not the exact same”.
Michael Scott, a Progressive Labour Party backbencher, supported the Premier and said there was “deep similarity” between the terminology in the acts.
Mr Burt told MPs: “This Bill brings additional scrutiny, this Bill will require these items to be laid before the House in the future and allow honourable members to take them up within 21 days.”
He added that the amendment, which was passed, meant that any steps taken under emergency powers legislation would have to be published in the Official Gazette, which was not previously required.
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