Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Why Holness must quit

Published:Sunday | February 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The Leader of the Opposition of Jamaica is an office recognised in the Constitution of Jamaica (1962). As such, he 'declared and affirmed' to uphold the said Constitution and to defend it against all who would seek to defile its content.

One can seek to do damage to the Constitution by happenstance. This, however, does not make it less of a breach of the said supreme law of the land. When this is done by one who is expected to be conversant with the contents of the Constitution, it raises a number of pertinent issues. Did the person committing the breach do so inadvertently, without full knowledge of the action he was taking, or was it calculated, based on an improper interpretation of the Constitution?

The law is not a science, but an interpretive art. Recall, the lawyer is always caricatured as expressing "on the one hand, and on the other", seeking to argue both sides with a view to showing his/her learned friend that he/she recognises all points that may be advanced or merely practise the advanced CYA theory.

 

Holness acted unlawfully

 

Regrettably, Andrew Holness, the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, set out on a path to bring the Constitution of Jamaica into disrepute. The Constitutional Court of Jamaica, by a three-person panel in its ruling, used strong language. They found Andrew Holness acted unlawfully, contrary to public policy, inconsistent with the Constitution, and accordingly his actions were null and void. Void ab initio. They were void, a nullity from the inception of his scheme to preclude action of the senators by coercion, duress and having them serve at his sole pleasure. Bad. Very bad.

The matter is further compounded by the legal fiction that the ruling could not disturb the composition of the Senate with those two citizens sitting without the colour of authority in that chamber. Then he contrived an apology. Not to the people of Jamaica in totality, but conditioned by an "if I had done wrong" attitude. This reeks of a strong disregard for the very nature of the act he committed which led to it being labelled unlawful.

Mr Holness is the head of a political party and as such one should not presume to speak to the members of that party when they give the mantle of leader. He can remain leader of the JLP. He must, however, vacate the constitutional office of leader of the Opposition.

He wants the country to accept a man given to committing unlawful acts, freely, knowingly and voluntarily. He further wants the country to accept his scant regard for the rule of law. He would reject the ruling of a duly constituted court of this land and act contrary to public policy and then do a nullity.

If he can get away with it, all persons who act unlawfully must hold up the example of Andrew Michael Holness. If this is an unlawful act without consequence to him, why should any other citizen be subject to sanction from the State for acts contrary to the rule of law?

We are a young democracy that seeks to build a just society for the equal benefit of all. We are governed by the rule of law and not the whim of a constitutional officer. If the whim of a constitutional officer could be deemed by a court as unlawful and that breach goes unpunished, we are on a slippery slope.

All men, women and children of the Jamaican society have, and are to expect, equal treatment in accord with the Charter of Rights in our Constitution. Breach it at your peril. The rule of law must prevail. The JLP may have any alleged interloper or scoundrel among us as their leader, but the country deserves better.

Leaders must be imbued with the quality of moral authority, constitutional adherence, temperament to meet out justice with mercy and the knowledge to plot a creditable path towards national goals. Will you, for the foreseeable future, look at all constitutional officers of this land and feel they are worthy?

The Westminster model of governance to which we pay homage and the democracy we crave has laid a path before us. Do we have the fortitude to act in accordance with the model they have perfected for centuries?

This is a country belonging to all those who claim citizenship. It is ours to shape and fashion for the future. It is our leaders' role to command respect, honour and occupy a place of pride. Can the leader of the Opposition, as labelled by the court, having acted unlawfully, contrary to public policy and inconsistent with the Constitution, command our allegiance?

It is clear that the party he leads, and being the constitutionally recognised leader of the Opposition, are two distinct posts that Andrew Holness occupies. One, he serves a particular subset of the population. In the other, he serves us all.

The prerogatives of the all must triumph over the wishes of the subset. All we wish for him is to step aside as leader of the Opposition. Step away, Andrew Michael Holness. You may be redeemable in the future. Not now.

- Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.