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Letter of the day: Resolving Senate dispute rests on outcome of Holness' appeal

Published:Thursday | March 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM


If I were a senator and my leader asked me to resign or even hinted that he wasn't comfortable with me, he wouldn't need to ask twice. My resignation would reach the governor general before the thought was expressed.

First, the Senate position is not elected: senators receive no mandate from the electorate. Their position flows from the mandate given to those elected by the people to the Lower House. And in our system, the constitutional position of prime minister and leader of the Opposition are persons enjoying the clear support of their elected peers. It is this, the confusion surrounding which pair of Opposition senators is to properly sit in the Upper House, that has deepened since last Thursday's decision by Supreme Court Judge Justice Carol Beswick to adjourn the hearing of the applications filed under the Parliament Membership Questions Act.

The Jamaican Constitution provides that, where a seat in Parliament is questioned, as in the current case, such matters must be brought by way of petition to the Supreme Court for determination.


petition should be brought


Notwithstanding the Constitutional Court's declaration regarding the unconstitutionality and nullity of the pre-signed letters, the question as to which pair of the senators should rightly sit was not definitively addressed by the Declaration, and probably deliberately so, given the law.

The attorney general offered an opinion that, based on the declaration, Williams and Tufton could take their seat, but he also verbally advised that the Clerk of Parliament should bring a petition in fulfilment of the law. So, it appears that the petition route can offer no help in clarifying who are the senators.

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Holness, has come under intense criticism for his deciding to apologise and then to file an appeal. This was seen as contradictory and insincere, in seeking resolution to the matter. However, in filing the appeal, Holness explained that it was done to seek further clarity on important constitutional and public policy issues, and not to be contentious.

Holness can now claim some vindication in filing the appeal, regardless of public opinion. Ironically, as it now stands, Williams, who publicly expressed disappointment with Holness' appeal, must now rely on that very appeal to determine his fate.

Holness has been tight-lipped about the new developments in court, but contrary to what was being told to the public, he was never relying on the petition route to determine which pair of senators should rightly take seats. Even in his apology, Holness had hinted that he would work with Williams and Tufton for a political solution, and subsequently met with Williams to explore how the matter could be brought to an amicable end.

Now that the applications filed by Parliament have been adjourned, the legal solution on which Williams' must depend must be Holness' appeal.

Lawyers for Holness had applied to the court for an expedited hearing of the appeal and the nation waits with bated breath for the most anticipated court hearing in years.

Duane C.E. Smith, JP

JLP Deputy Spokesperson on Mining & Energy

Councillor, Chancery Hall division