Ruling triggers rush to register to vote

AG insists citizenship law has not changed 

Individuals impacted by a Court of Appeal decision that children born out of wedlock to Bahamian men and foreign women in The Bahamas are entitled to citizenship from birth have been turning up at the Parliamentary Registration Department demanding to be registered to vote, Attorney General Carl Bethel said in the Senate yesterday.

In making the ruling on Monday, the appellate court affirmed a landmark decision by Supreme Court Justice Ian Winder.

Bethel insisted that the law has not changed despite the ruling because the government is planning to appeal to the Privy Council.

“I am now advised that persons are presenting themselves yesterday and even today at the Parliamentary Registration Department demanding to be registered to vote,” he said.

“This is my information. Let me say, as I said to the press yesterday … if we were to lose at the Privy Council, at that time we would then be required to make changes to domestic law. In other words, nothing has changed as a result of the ruling because the matter is still a matter of contest.”

Winder’s ruling contradicts the longstanding requirement that children born in The Bahamas out of wedlock to Bahamian men and foreign women must wait until 18 to apply for citizenship. 

Bethel said the government is in the process of applying for a stay.

“One of the things that is required is, of course, that we go to the Privy Council for the matter to be settled, but pending that, there is no change in Bahamian law,” he said.

“And there is no possibility of a change, at least until September, when the House meets again, and no likelihood there will be any change at all without a definitive ruling from the Privy Council.

“If that ruling goes a certain way, we will have to deal with whatever the consequences are, but until that time, the matter is a contested issue and we would urge all persons who would wish to have the benefits of a judgment before the matter is settled at law to hold off and to await the final court’s verdict on this matter because the law has not changed.”

Senator Fred Mitchell, however, contended that the law has changed, at least for the time being.

He said those impacted by the ruling can legally go to the Passport Office and seek to get a passport.

“My understanding of the Court of Appeal Act is that once the Court of Appeal pronounces, that is actually the law of The Bahamas until the government takes some step to stay,” said Mitchell, who is also an attorney.

Mitchell added, “Once the court pronounces that ‘parent’ means either parent, the law changes because the Court of Appeal binds every other court.”

“As soon as the court pronounces, unless there is a stay, it changes automatically.

“So, someone who rushes down to the Passport Office and [demands] a passport, until you get a stay, he is a Bahamian citizen.”

Bethel insisted that the law has not changed and said it can’t be proven that a man is a parent, noting that the law does not at this time allow for the use of DNA for such proof.

“The statute law has not changed,” he said.

“… And that law will continue to prevail until such time as the law is clarified.”

Mitchell, however, said that if the government does not want to deal with people presenting themselves for citizenship, the Office of the Attorney General should urgently seek a stay.

“Well, I am saying you should do that with [urgency] because the persons can stand on the law right now and say ‘the Court of Appeal has ruled; I am a citizen’. It changes the law automatically,” he said.

“… So, I say act quickly if that’s what you’re going to do. Do it and do it quickly.”

Wayne Munroe, QC, who represented the applicants in the matter, said on Tuesday that he is advising individuals to apply for their passports now.

“They should apply for their passports and they should apply for their voter’s cards,” he said.

“If they refuse, then they take the government to court.

“The Supreme Court will be bound to follow the decision of the Court of Appeal. And because of the doctrine of precedent, the Court of Appeal would be bound to follow its previous decision.”

As for those who have already applied for citizenship and are still waiting, Munroe said they should now “demand their passports”.

When asked on Tuesday if he expected people impacted by the ruling to demand citizenship, Minister of Immigration Elsworth Johnson said they can do whatever the law allows, noting that it is the court’s responsibility to interpret the law.

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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