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Constitution ‘created to maintain status quo’

Nicola Barker, a professor from the University of Liverpool, left, with Venous Memari, managing director of the Centre for Justice (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

The Bermuda Constitution of 1968 was crafted to “maintain the status quo”, even as it advanced voters’ rights, a visiting academic has said.

Nicola Barker, an expert on human rights and constitutional law, is among the speakers at a conference on the constitution hosted by the Centre for Justice tomorrow.

The 50th anniversary of the May 22 General Election, Bermuda’s first with universal adult suffrage, has been marked with a special session of Parliament.

Dr Barker, from the University of Liverpool, emphasised that she was speaking “from an outsider’s perspective, but looking at what happened in the UK at the time”.

Bermuda’s political future came up for debate in Britain in 1966, when a Bermudian delegation joined a constitutional conference to push for change.

From her study of the UK parliamentary debates in 1966, Dr Barker detected “a certain feeling in the UK that civil rights was an American issue that might migrate to Bermuda if they were not careful”.

She said: “There seems to be a general consensus that this constitution was about maintaining the status quo of the power dynamic in Bermuda at that time.

“My argument is not that the constitution created racial inequality, but it was certainly never created to do anything to resolve that problem.”

Bermuda’s new constitution did “just enough”, Dr Barker added.

Venous Memari, managing director at the Centre for Justice, pointed out that while the constitution’s chapter of fundamental rights “prominently” featured racial discrimination, it has “nothing to do about the structural issues already in place — you are not solving the systemic issues”.

Dr Barker said: “Historians are pretty united about that.

“There was essentially a stitch-up between the Governor, Lord Martonmere, and Sir Henry Tucker, the government leader at the time, that created quite a conservative variation of constitutional change — and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office rubber-stamped that.”

She said that “a constitutional reform process should be led by Bermudians”.

Dr Barker plans to speak on the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution and its uncertain relationship with the European Convention of Human Rights.

“Another part that I will argue should be looked at is the power of the Governor,” Dr Barker said, citing the appointment of a British officer over Bermudian candidates as the island’s new Commissioner of Police.

Granting the governor power over the police service “seems like a relic of the colonial era, when the UK wanted to retain an almost physical control over its colonies”.

“There are ways you could discharge that responsibility by putting in place the appropriate constitutional mechanisms,” Dr Barker said.

David Burt, the Premier, will deliver the opening speech at the conference, which will then hear from Dr Barker and other speakers from 9am and 4.30pm at the BUEI.

John Barritt, page 4

UPDATE: This article was amended to reflect that Dr Barker now works at the University of Liverpool. She formerly worked at the University of Kent