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Senators given briefing on sex abuse

Nick Kempe, One Bermuda Alliance Opposition leader in the Senate (File photograph)

A two-hour information session was held for senators two days before they were asked to consider wide-ranging legislation to enhance the protection of children against sexual abuse.

They were invited to the briefing ahead of an “unusual” move in the Upper House that meant legislation was tabled, debated and ultimately passed in the same sitting.

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Minister of Legal Affairs, introduced the Child Safeguarding (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 2019 in the Senate yesterday.

It will still need to be approved by MPs in the House of Assembly before it is sent to the Governor for assent.

Joan Dillas-Wright, the President of the Senate, said the course of action was “unusual” because the Upper House would normally have a week between the first reading of a Bill and its second and third readings.

She added that Ms Simmons, who is also the Attorney-General, advised earlier that she planned to go through all three steps on the same day, allowed under Standing Order 25, and said she would make sure senators received a full briefing, which took place on Monday.

Ms Dillas-Wright described it as a “comprehensive” session when senators “asked many questions”.

She told the Senate yesterday: “It was my understanding ... following the briefing, that senators were in agreement that the debate of the Bill could take place today and that all three readings would occur, so that the Bill could then be sent to the House of Assembly for consideration and possible passage before the summer recess.”

Ms Dillas-Wright added: “Senators, this is an important Bill for our island and more particularly for our children.”

Senators including James Jardine, Michelle Simmons, both independents, and Vance Campbell, of the Progressive Labour Party, voiced their support for the Bill.

Nick Kempe, the Opposition leader in the Senate, said the One Bermuda Alliance welcomed enhanced safeguards for the protection of children but claimed the lack of “due process” was regrettable.

He added: “I understand the Government’s desire to go on recess at Cup Match but, quite frankly, for a Bill of this importance and this comprehensiveness the Opposition certainly would have preferred that if we had to come back and meet again after Cup Match, so be it.”

Mr Kempe said the opportunity for senators and members of the public to see final drafts of the legislation before it was debated would have “provided a much better confidence that there were no omissions or errata of content”.

He added: “But the spirit and the closing and modernising of language and inherent cultural biases that this Act seeks to correct, we wholeheartedly support.”