Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Senate row much ado about nothing

Published:Monday | November 2, 2015 | 11:00 AM
Frank Phipps

I have been following the progress of the three bills in Parliament for a major change to the judiciary, replacing the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of appeal for Jamaica.

The bills are now stuck in the Senate because a contretemps has developed over the suspension of opposition Senator Malahoo Forte on a motion by government senators for alleged contempt and disrespect to the president. Excluding a member of the Senate from partaking in the nation's business has far-reaching constitutional importance, of no less importance than the subject matter of the bills.

The diversion from the main issues in the debate arose from the senator's delay, not refusal, to provide the president with a copy of a document she had referred to in her presentation on the bills that relate to the availability of the Privy Council to hear appeals in Jamaica, which is at the heart of the Government's case for the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Significantly, a government senator had referred to the document in an earlier presentation to the Senate and the Daily Observer newspaper had previously dealt with it extensively. One must wonder why an opposition senator was targeted for information that was already in the public domain.

The minister of justice says the document could not be found at his ministry, but that should not be all; a thorough search should include the attorney general's chambers. The AG and the minister of justice were the same person at date of the document and, normally, an enquiry of this nature would be initiated by the AG, requesting the government's lawyer to the PC to find out the true position.

Due diligence would require a search of the AG's office for the file, with relevant documents, before stirring up controversy and demeaning others. The minister should now say whether that office is searched belatedly for the wanted document and with what result. Silence is not good enough.

Concerns about the authenticity of the document are now put to rest. A signed copy of the document was retrieved from the Privy Council, which could have been done at the inception of the quarrel to satisfy doubters.

 

UNTIDY APPEASEMENT

 

The suspension has been lifted as part of an untidy appeasement package prepared for the president by the government members, who now realise the consequences of their folly, after pursuing a washroom chase.

Much thanks to the lady, who stood up to pressure from cantankerous senators and an overbearing president, not giving up on her duty to protect the people's interest.

During the much ado about nothing, I was surprised to hear the minister publicly assert that the document had been procured by the Government's Privy Council agents in the context where the minister revealed how much the lawyers earned from representing the Government in Privy Council cases, insinuating that the information was needed by them to assess their future pecuniary interest if appeal hearings should be held in Jamaica. This was bad red herring that led nowhere.

My understanding is that those lawyers always had to wait patiently and long to receive payment for their professional services to Jamaica. The unfortunate exposure is not the way to show gratitude.

Having myself been a senator, I raise these points to know that the high standards of the chamber remain intact.

• Frank Phipps, QC, is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.