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Lovells is advising four prominent Bermudians who have issued judicial review proceedings challenging a proposal by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to radically alter the Bermudian constitution.
He proposes to do so without consulting the island's authorities, which is in breach of a 35-year-old assurance. As The Lawyer went to press on Friday (13 July) an injunction application was being heard at the High Court in London, along with an application for judicial review. The former aims to stop Straw from asking the Privy Council on Wed-nesday to pass an Order of Council, giving the Bermudian Boundaries Constitution the task of recommending an appropriate number of single-seat constituencies. Potentially, the size of the House of Assembly may be significantly reduced as a result. "This could profoundly affect the democratic system of Bermuda," said a Lovells spokesman. Sir John Plowman, the lead claimant and a former member of the Bermudian government, is president of the Association for Due Process and the Constitution that was formed in response to Straw's proposal. The association claims to reflect the views of 75 per cent of Bermudians, who favour a constitutional conference before any alterations are made to the constitution of Bermuda, which is a UK dependency. The option of such a conference is enshrined in the official report from a 1966 constitutional conference, two years before the Bermudian constitution came into operation. In the report an assurance is given that the UK Foreign Secretary would not advise on the making of any orders in council to amend the constitution without consulting the Bermudian government. Lovells litigation partner Paul Dacam, who is advising the residents, said: "The residents bringing the claim are concerned about the lack of public consultation and public debate on the constitutional changes. "In particular, they argue that the procedure adopted by the Foreign Secretary is flawed and unfair. In the past, before major constitutional changes in Bermuda, there have been constitutional conferences held to air fully all considerations and to engage all parties, interested groups and the public." Under Straw's proposals, the Boundaries Commission would have to produce a report recommending a number of boundaries and constitutions into which Bermuda would be divided. It is proposed that each constituency would have one member in the island's lower house, the House of Assembly. Currently, each constituency produces two members. The commission's report would then be submitted to the governor of Bermuda and then on to Straw, who would take further action. Crucially, until now the composition of the House of Assembly has been enshrined in the Bermudian constitution. The Boundaries Commission's role has been limited to reviewing constituency boundaries.