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I. Rules for Parliamentary Operations under a State of Emergency
The Constitution of Jamaica addresses the tenure of parliament in times of “emergency.” In accordance with section 64(3) of the Constitution, “when Jamaica is at war” the Jamaican parliament may extend beyond its five-year term, by up to 12 months at a time, to a maximum of two years. The Constitution does not recognize an “emergency parliament” with devolved powers to address crisis situations.
Although the Constitution does not address any other form of emergency, including a pandemic, that would allow the extension of parliamentary tenure, a March 12, 2020, editorial in The Gleaner newspaper in Kingston regarding the probability of early elections in Jamaica has suggested that such an extension might depend on interpretation:
[U]nder section 64(4), even after its [Parliament’s] dissolution, and before an election, the old Parliament could, in an emergency, if summoned by the governor general, continue to sit and be deemed “not to have been dissolved until the date on which the polls are held in the next ensuing general election”. In the context of a national emergency, the operation of Parliament in this manner would lend bipartisan and constitutional legitimacy to actions to address the crisis.
Hopefully, these and other possible constitutional arrangements to allow for the continuity of government in a dire situation will be moot, with COVID-19 having turned out to be a mere blip on Jamaica’s radar. Yet, being prepared is always best.
II. Recent Arrangements to Ensure Parliamentary Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic
In a statement on the COVID-19 situation in Jamaica, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness assured the public that his government would provide leadership and coordination, and ensure that accurate and verified information was provided in a timely manner, on all pertinent matters relating to COVID-19. He noted that he had “established a protocol to advise the Leader of the Opposition directly of any development and will convene an ad hoc bipartisan parliamentary committee, to ensure information sharing at the political level.”
Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
Last Updated: 12/30/2020