Friday, Nov 17, 2017
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AG: Citizenship law changes won’t offend constitution

Attorney General Carl Bethel (left) greets Bahamas Christian Council President Bishop Delton Fernander during a recent meeting. FRANKLYN G. FERGUSON

Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday the government’s plan to change the law on citizenship rights would not “offend the constitution”.

“We are not doing anything to go against the constitution or against the law as it is presently,” Bethel said.

“The law, as it is presently, admits to all of the things that we have spoken about.

“All we are seeking to do is ensure that it is effective, not subject to administrative delays and not subject to victimization.”

Bethel said he explained this to members of the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) in a meeting last week.

BCC President Bishop Delton Fernander recently accused the government of going against the results of a 2016 referendum that dealt with the same citizenship issues.

Bethel said yesterday, “We discussed the referendum results. I think the real core concern of the council was more that there should be public dialogue and consultation.

“We are more than prepared to do that. Frankly, we undertook to do that.

“People need to know and understand exactly what it is the government is planning on doing and to be sure, as I indicated, that it does not offend the constitution, does not affect a result that is already a part of the law of The Bahamas.”

Bethel said the meeting, which was held on Wednesday, was “very good”.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced on November 2 that the government will amend the law to ensure that all children born outside The Bahamas to Bahamian women automatically receive Bahamian citizenship.

The government also intends to amend the law and allow children born to unmarried Bahamian men and foreign women an “automatic” right to Bahamian citizenship.

The announcements came over a year after the Christie administration’s failed gender equality referendum.

Some legal observers who spoke with The Nassau Guardian recently suggested that the changes being proposed could be unconstitutional.

It’s the same position expressed by former Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett when he addressed a Rotary meeting ahead of the referendum last year.

“Some have suggested that the changes proposed with respect to citizenship can be effected by ordinary legislation and an amendment to the Bahamas Nationality Act would be sufficient,” Sir Michael said.

“I do not agree. The provisions for the grant of citizenship which are sought to be corrected are contained in the constitution itself. It is the constitutional provision that is being corrected, and this, in my opinion, can only be done by amending the constitution.”


Favorable

When asked why the government decided to address this issue, Bethel said, “The thinking is that children are in a special category.

“Children deserve the most favorable consideration of the state.

“We think that this was the intention of the founders of the constitution when they passed the Bahamas Nationality Act with its provisions that allow a minister, just about in any situation that he considers it correct, the right thing to do, to grant citizenship by way of registration to a child of a Bahamian.”

The Bahamas Nationality Act allows the minister responsible for nationality and citizenship the discretion to “cause the minor child of a citizen of The Bahamas to be registered as a citizen of The Bahamas upon application”.

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