Convention for Advising the Standing Committee on Boundaries of the Parliament

The Parliament of Jamaica is obliged to act on the advice on its Standing Committee on Boundaries with respect to the number of constituencies into which Jamaica is divided and the boundaries of these constituencies. Further, the Constitution specifies that every four to six years the Standing Committee on Boundaries should conduct a general review of boundaries and make adjustment were the number of electors in a constituency falls below or rises above limits prescribed by formulae explicitly stated the Constitution. The Standing Committee on Boundaries is comprised of the Speaker of the House, who is the Chairman and two representatives each, named by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.

One of the functions of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, as set out in the Electoral Commission Interim Act 2006, is to advise the Standing Committee on Boundaries of Parliament, during each period of General Review, with respect to the number of constituencies in which Jamaica should be divided and the boundaries of the constituencies. The functions of the EAC also included advice to the Standing Committee on Boundaries of Parliament.

The Convention on Constituency Boundaries is that the Standing Committee on Boundaries, through the Speaker, will initiate each period of General Review. The Speaker does so by letter to the Chairman of the ECJ. However, the ECJ, formerly the EAC, will conduct the General Review based on the Formulae prescribed by the Constitution. Further, the Standing Committee on Boundaries will make its recommendations to Parliament strictly in accordance with the advice of the ECJ in its Report, provided that the Report is unanimous as evidenced by the signature of all Commissioners.

Each time the Standing Committee on Boundaries of the Parliament acts as set out above it continues the Convention. However, the Standing Committee on Boundaries of the Parliament is not obliged legally or constitutionally to accept the advice of the ECJ.

The reason and rationale for this convention are to eliminate gerrymandering of the number of constituencies into which Jamaica is divided and the boundaries of these constituencies from manipulation of the political party forming the Government. The Speaker of the House plus the two members nominated by the Prime Minister constitute a majority on the Standing Committee of Government. Prior to 1979, the political parties that formed the Government had used the number of constituencies and their boundaries to gerrymander constituencies to their advantage. This convention was agreed as the means by which gerrymandering would be eliminated from Jamaican electoral system.

The last General Elections in which there were claims of gerrymandering of constituencies and their boundaries was in 1976, that is, prior to the formation of the EAC and adherence to the Convention on Boundaries by all political parties that have formed the Government since then. However, each period of General Review and each Report of the EAC/ECJ has been a test of the Convention and will continue to be so, given the power that the Constitutions gives to the Standing Committee on Boundaries of Parliament.