Bermuda’s House of Assembly improves its transparency and its outreach to the public – and to its own Members – by re-introducing a full Hansard of its proceedings using recording software as part of a modernization programme.
Ms Shernette Wolffe in Hamilton. Ms Wolffe is the Clerk of the Parliament of Bermuda. A former librarian and teacher, she has been Clerk since 2003. This article was written with assistance from the Parliament of Bermuda’s parliamentary information officer, Mr Derek Lamb.
The Bermuda House of Assembly, the oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth outside the British Isles, dates back to 1 August 1620. The Governor at the time, Mr Nathaniel Butler, summoned a General Assembly in the old Town of St George. Since those days, our Parliament has progressed considerably and Bermuda now has a bicameral system on the Westminster model. The most notable watershed
event in the evolution of Bermuda’s Legislature occurred on 8 June 1968 when a new constitution was enacted. Members of the Legislative Council and Members of the House of Assembly elected under universal suffrage for the first time in Bermuda’s history were convened under the new system of government provided for in the constitution.
200 | The Parliamentarian | 2012: Issue Three
Our Parliament continues
to develop. Rapidly developing knowledge-based and technology- driven societies have placed Legislatures under close scrutiny in the areas of transparency, accountability, effectiveness and fairness. The House of Assembly is
no exception. Our parliamentary procedures were in need of modernization. As an initial start we revised our Standing Orders. Our Legislature also took the bold step in May 2010 to introduce a parliamentary recording and transcription service – hence the rebirth of the Hansard.
Reviving the report Historically, there was a Hansard at the House of Assembly which dated back from 1887 to the 1920s.
Through research it was determined that certain debates were transcribed sporadically in the 1940s. It is not apparent why this initiative was discontinued. Traditionally, Hansard reports were transcribed by hand while the House was in session and then a report was produced on a typewriter. This process was common before technology advanced to today’s computer-based system. Demands made by civil society organizations, constituents and non- governmental organizations in our information-based society included frequent requests for excerpts from the proceedings of the House. This necessitated us to determine that having a Hansard would be the best course of action, to evolve Parliament into the 21st century. Before the decision was made, I coincidently met Mrs Janet Seffer