The British Privy Council or its body of law lords is the final appeals court for the Bahamas and independent Caribbean countries that are either not republics or choose not to join the umbrella Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) based in Trinidad.
That is why, when the court ruled in early May that the Bahamas must grant citizenship to the offspring of a Bahamian male with a foreign woman, it set a process in motion to overhaul the country’s controversial but highly partisan citizenship laws.
Automatic citizenship to children of such unions were outlawed under the previous systems, but the recent court ruling now presents authorities with a set of new challenges to deal with, including a system to determine who are the biological parents of those who will have to apply for citizenship under the new arrangements. Many of the estimated 1,500 people who will be affected by the ruling are from nearby Haiti, and most of them came as refugees in recent decades.
Labor Minister Keith Bell told reporters in the past week that the cabinet will most likely have to order DNA testing to confirm paternity to avoid fraud and cheating, which could delay the dawning of a new day following the ruling.
“The major concern for us is that where children who are born in the Bahamas and their births are not necessarily registered at the Princess Margaret Hospital, or there are issues and they have to present affidavit evidence—we have to mitigate against fraud and deception,” he said. “But obviously, it appears that we may need to consider seriously our DNA testing. There are also other issues that are likely to arise, including what to do in cases when fathers are deceased or refuse to submit to DNA testing.”
The court had ruled that successive administrations have badly misinterpreted local laws pertaining to Bahamian citizenship. Some clauses had barred those from a union with a local father and foreign mother from being eligible to apply until age 18 and even then, many had complained about hassles from the immigration system.
Attorney General Ryan Pinder said the entire system will have to be overhauled to make it more fair and easier.
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“We will discuss in [the] cabinet what measures are in place, one, to evaluate under Article 6 the biological father in the case of illegitimate children and, secondly, the way forward with the remaining elements of discriminatory treatment, primarily the discriminatory treatment when a Bahamian woman marries a foreign man and has that child outside of the country. There are a couple of others, including matters like adopted children, that we’re looking at. Hopefully, we’ll have some clear direction from [the] cabinet shortly,” he said.
Authorities had appealed to the British court for a final ruling, especially after current Chief Justice Ian Winder had ruled in the lower court that any person born in the Bahamas shall become a citizen regardless of the marital status of either parent. That ruling had upended the widespread belief that a person born to a foreign woman was banned from automatic citizenship. Bell also said that many of those likely to apply do not have birth certificates, which will present a major challenge going forward as the government moves to comply with the judgment.
“The impact of the Privy Council decision is there is no need to apply to Immigration anymore [at age 18]. They can go straight to the passport office and get their documentation and so forth.”