New twist to Senate resignation letters saga

New twist to Senate resignation letters saga

Holness files appeal in Senate resignation letters saga

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

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The Senate resignation letters saga gripping the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) took a dramatic twist yesterday when Andrew Holness filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court's declaratory ruling that his action in the matter was unconstitutional.

"The leader of the Opposition has received legal advice that there are matters in the Constitutional Court's recent declaration which must be addressed in the interest of the proper functioning of the constitutional office of the leader of the Opposition, and in the interest of a clearer understanding of the Constitution," the JLP explained in a statement last night.

"In the circumstances, and based on this advice, an appeal has been filed," the statement added.

Holness's action comes just over two weeks after the court -- comprising justices Courtney Day, Marva McDonald-Bishop, and David Batts -- ruled that his request for pre-signed and undated resignation letters from persons to be appointed Opposition senators, and his use of those letters to oust Arthur Williams and Dr Christopher Tufton from the Upper House were "inconsistent with the Constitution, contrary to public policy, unlawful and, accordingly, null and void".

The Court made the declaration on a claim filed by Williams after he and Tufton were ousted from the Senate in November 2013 following the acrimonious leadership race for the JLP that pitted Audley Shaw against Holness.

A day after the court ruling, Holness expressed regret at the saga, saying that it was never his intention to act unconstitutionally.

"My action at all times was guided by attorneys-at-law, including the claimant, in whom I had reposed the utmost trust and confidence as persons competent in advising me on constitutional matters," he said.

"My overriding consideration, as leader of the Opposition, was in discharge of my duty to safeguard the spirit and intent of the constitutional provisions which provide for the protection of the Constitution from changes which may not be in the best interest of the Jamaican people. My action, therefore, in accepting the advice of the claimant, regarding resignation of senators, in that manner, was to ensure the effective administration of the Government for the people, the necessity of which was recognised in the judgement at paragraph 64," Holness added.

His reference was to Justice Daye's observation that it was not beyond political leaders and parliamentarians to create a constitutional convention regarding resignation of senators to ensure effective administration of government for the people.

He also apologised to Williams and Tufton, saying that he regretted the embarrassment that the "entire situation" caused both men.

At the same time, Holness pointed out that the declaration of the Constitutional Court has raised the issue of the Senate's independence and how that affects the governance of the country.

"The Constitution makes provision only for Government and Opposition senators. There is no concept of an independent senator," Holness argued in a phone interview with the Jamaica Observer.

Essentially, his point was that there has to be some relationship of confidence between the person making the recommendation for appointments to the Senate and the person being appointed.

"That is now the issue of public policy that follows from the judgement," he said, adding that he had referred it to a team of attorneys to research and advise on any implications it may have on Jamaica's constitutional arrangements and how it affects the spirit and intent of its framework in respect to the role of Opposition and Government senators.

Two Fridays ago, Williams and Tufton returned to the Upper House after Attorney General Patrick Atkinson said that the Supreme Court had given a declaratory judgement that the resignations of both men were null and void.

But Senate President Floyd Morris said that while he had received the attorney general's advice he had "no formal indication" of the ruling from the Supreme Court.

He, therefore, referred the matter to the Supreme Court for a determination.

Last night, the JLP said that Holness "has been served with an application to add him as an interested party to the petition filed by the Clerk of the House".

The party also said that a petition will be submitted on the Opposition leader's behalf.

The JLP expressed the hope that at the end of the proceedings there will be clarity on the issues raised as they were "in the interest of the Jamaican people, Jamaica's democratic processes and the entrenched right of all Jamaicans, regardless of political affiliation".

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