Holness expresses regret, points to public policy issue in court declaration

Holness expresses regret, points to public policy issue in court declaration

Saturday, February 07, 2015

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ANDREW Holness yesterday expressed regret at the saga involving himself and former Opposition senators Arthur Williams and Dr Christopher Tufton, saying that it was never his intention to act unconstitutionally when he required the signing of undated resignation letters before appointing his team to the Upper House.

At the same time Holness, the opposition leader, pointed out that the declaration of the Constitutional Court on the controversy 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 after he issued his statement.

Essentially, Holness's point is 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.

The resignation letters were signed by Opposition senators in January 2013, reportedly before their appointments, and were related to the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP's) position on Jamaica accepting the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal.

But Willams, who penned the letters, took the matter to court after he and Tufton were ousted from the Senate in November 2013 after the bitter leadership race for the JLP that pitted Audley Shaw against Holness.

Williams's lead attorney, Dr Lloyd Barnett, had argued that the resignation letter was brought into effect contrary to Williams's consent, and in contravention of the Constitution. He also said Williams had expressed to Holness that he did not intend to resign.

However, Holness's attorney, Georgia Gibson-Henlin argued that Williams's rights had not been breached.

On Friday, the Constitutional Court -- comprising justices Courtney Day, Marva McDonald-Bishop, and David Batts -- declared that Holness's action was "inconsistent with the Constitution, contrary to public policy, unlawful and accordingly null and void".

Yesterday, in expressing "a genuine sense of regret" over the episode, Holness said that he wanted all Jamaicans to know 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.

Holness said that when Williams questioned the validity of the letters, he took the decision of returning, through the Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, all such letters without exception, long before the court delivered its judgement.

"The entire situation is regrettable, including the embarrassment caused to Arthur and Chris," Holness added.

"The ruling by the constitutional court is of such great importance that I have referred it to a team of attorneys to research and advise on any implications it may have on our constitutional arrangements and how it affects the spirit and intent of its framework in respect to the role of Opposition and Government senators," he said.

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