Justice group’s relief at Human Rights vote
The Centre for Justice said today it was relieved that an amendment to the Human Rights Act to allow discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in relation to marriage was rejected by the Senate.
In a statement, the civil liberties and human rights group said: “Section 38 of the Bermuda Constitution provides that a bill that is rejected by the Senate may be presented in the House of Assembly again after 12 months have lapsed.
“If the bill is passed again in the House of Assembly but rejected by the Senate for the second time, it may be presented to the Governor for assent despite the Senate's lack of consent.”
The statement said the June 23 referendum on same-sex relationships “yielded no valid result” as the turnout was less than 50 per cent, “therefore there is no justifiable reason for Government to take legislative action to amend the Human Rights Act, which was brought into force over 30 years ago to provide everyone with protection from discrimination in all forms.
“Any amendment that aims to erode the Human Rights Act paves the way for diminishing it altogether.”
The Centre also commented on the civil action it brought to try to stop the referendum from taking place.
“Centre for Justice brought judicial review proceedings against the Government pursuant to our remit to scrutinise legislation to ensure that it is compatible with the Bermuda Constitution and international human rights principles.
“Our main objection to the recent referendum was on the basis that any issue that interferes with the rights of individuals, especially the rights of minorities, should not be determined or influenced by majority vote.
“Although the Chief Justice rejected our substantive arguments as to the legality of the referendum, he did accept, in broad terms, that ‘the Government's decision to hold the referendum on a human rights issue affecting what is generally regarded to likely be roughly 10 per cent of the electorate was contrary to principle'.
“Furthermore, it appears that the Government was persuaded to hold the referendum based on Preserve Marriage's representations as to the meaning and effect of the European Court of Human Rights' decision in [the case of] Oliari-v-Italy.
“However, the Chief Justice noted that he did not read the ECHR's decision in Oliari-v-Italy as ‘contemplating consulting the public on the same sex marriage issue by way of referendum'.
“In terms of public interest litigation, we are pleased that, similar to the approach of the English courts, the Bermuda Supreme Court clearly recognises the important role that NGOs and special interest groups may play in participating in court proceedings in relation to issues that are of general public importance.”
The Human Rights Amendment Act 2016 sought to change the law to ensure the Human Rights Act could not override the Matrimonial Causes Act, which says marriages are void unless they are between a man and a woman. It was voted down by six votes to five in the Upper Chamber.