By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
A Queen’s Counsel yesterday called the probe by the House of Assembly’s Committee on Privilege into Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles’ ruling on parliamentary privilege an “affront to the separation of powers”.
The QC, who spoke on a condition of anonymity, furthered that it was “ill-advised” for House Speaker Dr Kendal Major to resuscitate a long disused committee to adjudicate on a pending legal matter.
“It’s a long-standing parliamentary rule that nothing said or done in Parliament should refer to any pending legal matter,” the QC said. “There’s a pending legal matter, so it would be ill-advised for the speaker to countenance that the privilege committee, which never meets historically, it’s the recycle bin of Parliament, to suddenly get life to deal with a matter directly connected with and directly touching on a pending legal matter. That is an affront to the separation of powers.”
In May, Justice Charles granted a permanent injunction barring parliamentarians from accessing or making public the personal information of the non-profit organisation Save The Bays.
In response, Marathon MP Jerome Fitzgerald moved a resolution in Parliament for the House Committee on Privilege to determine whether Justice Charles, STB Director Fred Smith, QC, and lawyer Ferron Bethell should be held in contempt of the House of Assembly.
The resolution was seconded by Deputy Prime Minister Philip Davis, and provides for funding to obtain independent legal advice if needed.
On Friday, Mr Fitzgerald filed an appeal to have Justice Charles’ ruling overturned. Justice Charles ruled that he infringed on constitutional rights when he tabled the private emails of Save The Bays in Parliament, and therefore could not be protected by parliamentary privilege. Justice Charles also ordered Mr Fitzgerald to pay $150,000 in damages for the breach – a decision the Marathon MP contends was made in error because he was “at all times acting in the public interest.”
Yesterday, Bahamas Bar Association President Elsworth Johnson was reluctant to comment on the matter, maintaining that he remained optimistic that both jurisdictions would respect each other.
“What I would say is that I am confident that insofar as the matter is subjudice, is that faith like hope springs eternally. The honourable prime minister and the attorney general being excellent lawyers, they will in their infinite wisdom, they would allow this matter that is now before the court to be determined,” Mr Johnson said.
“Far be it for me to involve myself in the internal working, that’s their job and I hold them in high esteem. I know at the end of the day Parliament will respect, and the courts will respect, that concept called the separation of powers and that they will ensure that the integrity of the three arms of government is upheld.”
The parliamentary committee members are Mount Moriah MP Arnold Forbes, Sea Breeze MP Hope Strachan, North Abaco MP Renardo Curry - who all represent the governing party - and opposition members Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant and Long Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner.
The committee held a preliminary meeting last week Wednesday, but have not yet finalised a list of persons they wish to summon, according to Mr Grant.
Yesterday, the Central Grand Bahama MP rejected the assertion that the committee was nonperforming, but declined further comment as it was a “very delicate” matter.