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Emergency powers questioned in Senate

An Opposition senator questioned yesterday how changes to laws related to the introduction of emergency measures would provide more scrutiny of decisions.

Jarion Richardson, of the One Bermuda Alliance, sought clarification from Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, during a debate on the Emergency Powers Amendment Act 2020.

Mr Richardson said: “I always question the wisdom of moving the lines of something as old as this and something that has been used in the past successfully.

“Certainly we have not seen a commission or any other documentation, as far as I'm aware, that has recommended this move.

“This move comes about specifically after the coronavirus and it was a unique circumstance so I do think that there is some benefit of the doubt that has to be afforded to the Government.

“That being said, it cannot go without scrutiny that a line is being moved and the Government has an onus of responsibility to explain why that line is being moved, especially because it relates to emergency powers — they are significant and the ramifications of which deprive citizens and residents of their constitutional rights.”

Ms Simmons told the Senate that the move was designed to clarify the legal position “to ensure greater transparency in the management of affairs on behalf of the people of Bermuda”.

She explained that the legislation would 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.

Ms Simmons said: “Scrutiny of administrative action is a good thing.

“It promotes confidence in decision-making, it encourages better decision making and cultivates an atmosphere of inclusion among everyday citizens and their representatives.”

But Mr Richardson asked: “How and in what way is the transparency greater than before, and why is the Statutory Instruments Act being utilised in this way, now?”

Ms Simmons replied: “Clause two makes it clear that the new section is going to ensure that regulations made by the Governor under the Act, as well as orders and rules made by another authority or person under those regulations are subject to parliamentary scrutiny.”

She added that the Statutory Instruments Act was used because that was the Act that covered procedures relating to this type of legislation.

Mr Richardson said he understood that emergency powers regulations were already subject to parliamentary scrutiny through a “different mechanism”.

Ms Simmons replied that she had nothing to add.

Senators passed the Bill, as well as the Summary Offences Amendment Act 2020, which Ms Simmons said would “broaden the Governor's power to order a temporary curfew” in the interests of public health for up to seven days.

They also approved the Merchant Shipping Amendment Act 2020, which will allow the minister responsible for maritime administration to give directions to a ship or a ship owner in the wake of an accident that could pollute Bermuda's waters.

The amendments were also designed to speed up the process of updating maritime legislation by allowing “ambulatory references” to international maritime regulations.

The change means when Bermuda's legislation referenced international regulations, it would use the latest version of the international regulations instead of those in effect when the Bermuda legislation was signed.

Jarion Richardson, a One Bermuda Alliance senator (Photograph supplied).

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Published June 11, 2020 at 10:22 am (Updated June 11, 2020 at 2:14 pm)

Emergency powers questioned in Senate

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