Confession, Constitution and Confusion
Andrew Holness, leader of the Opposition, compared himself to the wayward King David who was a man after God's own heart, and repented by saying, " ... if I have done something wrong or my actions have been declared wrong, then I have a duty to apologise to those whom I had wronged and so, today, I do so unreservedly ... ." In addition, Holness promised to make restitution: "And should it be shown to me that it is in my powers to make corrections, ... I will be moving to ensure that the law is respected". Then Holness, in a reflective mood, said that sometimes there is a tension between the moral and the legal. He ended by stating what his role would be 'exploring the law' and this issue was a 'signal moment' and how he handled this matter would be indicative of the type of leadership he intends to offer to Jamaica. Holness, as an invited guest to the Boulevard Baptist Church's 46th anniversary, made those remarks in the context of commendation to the Boulevard Baptist and the Jamaican church for their contribution to nation building.
Two days before those remarks, the Supreme Court ruled in the Arthur Williams vs Andrew Holness case "That the pre-signed and undated letters of resignation and letters of authorisation, as well as the manner of their use to effect the resignation of Senators (the claimant, in particular) from the Senate of Jamaica, are inconsistent with the Constitution, contrary to public policy and are, accordingly, null and void." This unanimous ruling by Justices Daye, McDonald Bishop and Batts was not stating that Holness was involved in an illegal activity which would attract a criminal sentence, but a matter that was unlawful and unconstitutional and which has consequences.
an unacceptable affair
It would be good if all seven senators, who, by signing undated letters of resignation and playing a role in this unacceptable affair, apologise publicly. The Senate is very important in respect to constitutional amendments, because a two-thirds majority vote of members is required, meaning there has to be some collaboration between both sides. The Senate also has security of tenure; independence of deliberation; separation of powers in the legislature, and checks and balances of powers within the legislature.
There has been much confusion about a court appeal being made after the confession at the Boulevard Baptist Church, but many ignore that Holness' statement promised to 'explore the law'. Some persons feel that, after an apology, then there should be no legal appeal, but this is not necessarily so. A man could be convicted of manslaughter for the death through a motor vehicular accident and apologise for the death caused, but still appeal the judgment. So it is possible for Holness to believe that he has wronged Williams and Christopher Tufton and needed to apologise, but that the wrong was not unconstitutional, unlawful or null and void. It is a mistake to believe that the moral and the legal are always mutually exclusive.
The confusion has to do more with Holness' original position that the ruling did not affect the composition of the Senate and his subsequent positions and not a court appeal following a confession.
Holness has put his political career on the line in this constitutional matter. It reminds one of Bruce Golding, former prime minister, who placed his political career on the line on account of a constitutional issue. If the Court of Appeal or the Privy Council reverses the decision of the Supreme Court, then it would be a massive victory for Holness. However, if he loses at the Privy Council, it means the Privy Council would be endorsing the judgment of Jamaican jurisprudence and it would be a major blow to his political career.
n Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of The Cross and the Machete, and Rebellion to Riot. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.