Attorney General, Senior Counsel Anil Nandlall today clashed with Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde over the High Court’s jurisdiction to hear the case challenging the decision of the Parliamentary Committee of Privileges to suspend eight Opposition Members of Parliament.
The Court will hand down its decision on the 8th December.
The Opposition Members of Parliament who remain suspended over last December’s disruption to the Sitting of the National Assembly and the removal of the Speaker’s Mace have asked the Court to nullify the decision of the Committee of Privileges.
But the Attorney General has challenged the Court’s jurisdiction to even hear the matter.
On Friday, he told Justice Damone Younge that Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction over the disciplining of its Members, and as such, the Court cannot intervene.
The Attorney General argued that due to its special privileges, the Parliament is not governed by general law, and therefore, the Court has no jurisdiction to hear the case.
Further, in support of his argument, he referenced Article 165 of the Constitution, which states that “subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the National Assembly may regulate its own procedure and may make rules for that purpose.”
He submitted that it was in keeping with the Parliament’s Standing Order that the eight MPs – Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, Vinceroy Jordan, Annette Ferguson, Maureen Philadelphia, Ganesh Mahipaul, Sherod Duncan, Christopher Jones and Natasha Singh-Lewis – were suspended by the Committee of Privileges.
“If Parliament has power to regulate its own process, and has made the Standing Orders, and the Standing Orders…empowered that Committee to deal with matters of privileges, how can you say that Parliament doesn’t have the power to discipline?” he questioned.
Weighing in on the matter, the Attorney for the Speaker and Clerk of the National Assembly, Pratesh Satram told the Court that under the Constitution there can be no civil or criminal proceedings instituted against any Member of the Assembly for words spoken before or written in a report to the Assembly or to a committee.
“That provision expressly prohibits this enquiry…We submit your honour that it would be incorrect to construe Article 172 (2) to mean that the Court can go behind the written report when it cannot confront the contents of the report itself,” he submitted to the Court.
But Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde told Justice Younge that the suspended MPs have challenged their suspension on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
He told the Court that the National Assembly exercised duties that were not provided for under the law, and it is the responsibility of the Court to examine any alleged breach of a Constitutional right.
“It’s our submission that in the face of a complaint or breach of a constitutional right, the jurisdiction of the court is triggered,” the Senior Counsel told the Court.
He submitted that the High Court by Article 153 (2) of the Constitution is conferred with jurisdiction, that is original jurisdiction, to hear proceedings filed pursuant to Article 153 (1) of the Constitution.
Addressing the issue raised by Attorney Satram, the Senior Counsel said the National Assembly is not “a juristic person,” as such, its actions are communicated through the Speaker, not through the entire House.
“It follows, therefore, that there is nothing remiss in civil processes under the law which question acts of the National Assembly being instituted against the Speaker, or in orders emerging therefrom being served upon the Speaker,” he argued.
Senior Counsel Forde told the Court that Article 172 (2) of the Constitution has no application in the instant case.
“Article 172 (2) clearly prohibits the institution of “civil or criminal proceedings” against a member of the National Assembly in respect of words spoken or written by the Member,”” he emphasized.
He, therefore, asked the Court to proceed with the matter.
Justice Younge has indicated that she will hand down her decision on the jurisdiction of the Court to hear the matter on the 8th December.