By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
HOUSE Speaker Dr Kendal Major said he was both “astonished” and “offended” by the recent granting of an injunction, which bars members of Parliament from disclosing Save The Bays’ confidential information during proceedings, calling it a “pre-emptive onslaught” against the independence of the lower chamber.
Dr Major said as this move attempts to usurp the authority of the Speaker and is contemptuous to the House of Assembly, he stood ready to have persons brought to the bar of the House if necessary in defence of Parliament and its freedoms.
In his first public dismissal of the April 21 interlocutory injunction granted by Justice Indra Charles, Dr Major was stern in denouncing the order.
He said while the Office of the Attorney General seeks to have the injunction set aside, Parliament will continue to function as it wishes. He added that he was unaware of anywhere in the Commonwealth where the court is allowed to curtail the actions of Parliament.
The injunction, which lasts until May 12, sought to restrain Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, Education Minister Jerome Fitzgerald and Attorney General Allyson Maynard-Gibson from any further appropriation, perusal, use, publication or disclosure in Parliament or elsewhere of any correspondence, including emails, belonging to STB.
“Honourable members, I regard this interlocutory injunctive order as a pre-emptive onslaught against the independence of the Parliament and its attempted execution usurps the authority of the chair and amasses contempt upon our institution,” Dr Major said as he addressed the House.
“In my view the order violates the principle of separation of powers critical to a parliamentary democracy and should attract outrage from every member of this place and senator in the other place. In short, it is a blatant breach of parliamentary privilege and utterly disdainful on many levels.
“As chair, I defy this or any attempt by any court to direct or affect in anyway the conduct of our business in this place. I have the honour to preside over this House at this juncture in our history and will therefore jealously guard its rights and privileges.”
He added: “When the courts decide to meddle and extend its reach into the halls of Parliament democracy is not well served.
“Parliament can be messy yet it is self-regulating and the people ultimately cause it to correct herself. Members are often wrong and make mistakes. However for the system to work there must be mutual cooperation and respect between branches of government. Our rules operate through the discretion of the chair and through this vehicle we regulate the members. Parliament has its own checks and balances, ie rules, chair, committees, private members, diversity, elections every five years, etc.
“This matter is not about politics or who is right or wrong for what they said or did. This action by the court is a violation of a clear-cut principle in constitutional law and separation of powers.
“The privilege of freedom of speech is both the least questioned and the most fundamental right of the member of Parliament on the floor of the House and in committee,” Dr Major stressed.
Separation of powers
Central and South Eleuthera MP Damian Gomez said this was the first time that he knew of where a Supreme court judge attempted to regulate the utterances of the House of Assembly.
The PLP MP, who is also the chairman of the House Committee on Privilege, said the concept of separation of powers had to be taken seriously. He also raised concerns that in reading Justice Charles’ order it was noted that there had been no representation from the Office of the Attorney General. He suggested that this was due to an intentional act on the part of STB.
“As chairman of the Committee on Privilege I shall be fairly restrained on what I have to say because I (understand) that a motion will be made on the matter,” he said.
“I received a copy of the order by email on Sunday afternoon. It troubled me reading the order that it was said no appearance was made by the Attorney General’s Office even though notices were being given.
“On inquiry I discovered that the attorney general was served just before the hearing began and a copy of the notice was merely left at the reception desk so it was never intended by the applicants that proper notice would be given. I’m concerned about that, Mr Speaker.
“We have to take the separation of powers very seriously.
Mr Gomez added: “This is the first occasion that I am aware of that a Supreme Court judge has actually sought to say to members of Parliament what they cannot say in the House of Assembly. I am indeed very surprised by that. One must wonder what was submitted to the court.”
He insisted several times that he was unsure why he was served with an order when he had made no public communication whatsoever about any emails.
“I am not apart of this, Mr Speaker, I know that there was some talk of another order that had been granted in the Supreme Court by Save The Bays in which they sought to muzzle the world by naming essentially a John Doe defendant because it named no one and could have affected members in this place who might have been served or given notice of this.
“I draw that to your attention, Mr Speaker, because whatever question is referred to the Committee on Privilege it is important for a reminder to cover all of these silly occurrences and I say that because of the time of the season.
“We all know that the election is coming up within the next 11 months and people tend to do things that they would not otherwise do. But this is too serious of an issue for persons to believe that the playing of politics with our Constitution can be tolerated,” Mr Gomez said.
Meanwhile, Marco City MP Greg Moss said in this matter all parliamentarians should stand united on issues that undermine democracy.
Mr Moss, who is also the leader of a fringe group of the United Democratic Party (UDP), said there should be no room for any sort of misunderstanding of the role of Parliament and the essential function that it plays.
He said no one should question what is done in the House.
“I have said this repeatedly,” Mr Moss said. “We have three arms of the government and that’s not just a luxury or some sort of tapestry we have devised. That is how the democracy works.
“Otherwise the whole thing falls apart and we end up with what we are facing today, Mr Speaker, and you have rightly called it out, but I want to call it by its legal name, it is a constitutional crisis when one arm of the government tries to usurp the other arm of government.
“I am very troubled by what has happened.”
However, Fort Charlotte MP Dr Andre Rollins asked that Dr Major hold all MPs to the same standard.
The FNM MP said: “Mr Speaker, understanding your role as the premier protector of the Parliament, it is only my humble request that members opposite not be held to standards that cannot be acceptable within the confines of what is permissible under the law.
“I do not believe that any member opposite lives above the law when every one else outside is supposed to live under the law. That is all that I ask you, Mr Speaker.”