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Vindicated! Arthur Williams pleased with court ruling

Published:Saturday | February 7, 2015 | 2:00 AM

Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator

A ruling yesterday by the Constitutional Court that Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader Andrew Holness breached the Constitution when he ousted two opposition senators from the Upper House could see the senators back in the Senate if they so desire.

Former senator Arthur Williams launched a challenge over the manner in which the forced resignations took place.

"I consider myself as having been vindicated. I made the point from day one that this is not about me personally. It's about our constitutional scheme and structure, and I am happy that the Constitutional Court has pronounced on it," Williams said after the ruling was handed down. Holness had used two pre-signed and undated letters of resignation to remove Williams and Dr Christopher Tufton from the Senate in November 2013.

In response to the ruling, Holness said in a statement: "It must be noted carefully that the decisions summarised in the judgment do not disturb the composition of the Senate."

PUBLIC-POLICY ISSUES

Holness said he noted the declaration of the court on the important public-policy issues surrounding the resignation of senators. He stated further that the court recognised in its judgment that it was "Mr Arthur Williams, attorney-at-law, who was, at the time, my chief of staff and also leader of opposition business in the Senate, who created the letters and advised me on their use and its constitutionality. Mr Williams' involvement in creating this situation is significant enough for the judges to conclude that no cost should be awarded to him."

He said further: "We appreciate the clarification going forward that this declaratory judgement brings to our constitutional arrangements, however, given the complex legal and constitutional issues involved, we are still analysing the declaration and the reasons given."

Wentworth Charles, one of the lawyers who represented Williams, told The Gleaner that the ruling meant that no senators were appointed in place of Williams and Tufton because no vacancy existed at the time. He said the court ruled that the purported resignations are unconstitutional.

RIGHTFUL PLACE

Charles explained that the next step would be to advise the president of the Senate of the judgment of the court so that the senators could take their rightful place in the Senate. He said they should return to the Senate with immediate effect because in law, they never left the Senate and there were no resignations.

"The ruling has simply interpreted the legal effect of the letters," attorney-at-law Georgia Gibson Henlin, who represented Holness, said. She pointed out that the court did not give a directive as to what steps to take consequent on the order of the court. She said she needed time to study the ruling.

Williams, in the suit brought against Holness, contended that Holness used the letters to axe him from the Upper House because he did not support Holness in the internal leadership elections in November 2013. Williams admitted crafting the letters before he and other senators were appointed in 2012. He said the letters were only to be submitted to the governor general if any of the senators departed from the JLP's position of a referendum on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The Government needs the support of at least one JLP senator to pass legislation to replace the Privy Council with the CCJ as Jamaica's final court of appeal.