'No independence in parliament' ...Parliament votes on the CCJ today
Dr St Aubyn Bartlett recalls getting a piercing stare from Edward Seaga in 2003 after he abstained from voting on a bill that would eventually pave the way for Jamaica to join the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its original jurisdiction.
With the exception of Bartlett, members of parliament (MP) voted along strict party lines on a motion of support for Jamaica's ratification of the agreement to establish the CCJ, piloted by Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.
The motion was carried by a vote of 32-24, with Bartlett, a newly minted MP and member of the parliamentary opposition, abstaining.
"Back then, the arguments for (the CCJ) were not convincing, nor the arguments against," Bartlett told The Gleaner yesterday.
No longer a parliamentarian, Bartlett, along with other Jamaicans, will be watching with interest today when the House of Representatives votes on three bills seeking to have the CCJ replace the United Kingdom-based Privy Council as Jamaica's final court of appeal.
The Government has a two-thirds majority in the House, and if all its members turn up and vote in favour of the bills, passage would be secured. However, the Government will need to sway at least one opposition senator once the bills get to the Upper House or else the effort to make the CCJ the final court of appeal will fail.
Bartlett, who is no stranger to breaking party ranks in Parliament, having voted against a motion brought by his own government for the lifting of the Cuban embargo in 2010, said there was ample room for individuals to show independence in the House.
In the case of the Cuban embargo, Bartlett told The Gleaner, "I was not satisfied at that time that enough had been done to satisfy both Cuba and the United States for us to force the US to lift the embargo."
Bartlett said: "I remember Bruce Golding, when I voted against the Cuban motion, he looked at me and smiled and said, 'St Aubyn, have they called you from the embassy for a special visa yet?' They didn't have anything against me for having not voted for it."
He added: "In the case of that vote on the CCJ, I don't think Mr Seaga was quite as casual as Bruce Golding. He really just gave me a look, but he didn't just exchange any thoughts or anything like that."
The former East St Andrew MP, now caretaker for Central Manchester, said he formed his position during the respective parliamentary debates.
Bartlett said that there are individuals "who will not take up that option and will just vote party lines".
Former government minister Karl Blythe, who was part of the Patterson Cabinet that placed the matter of the CCJ before Parliament in 2003, said the question of MPs being independent is a farce.
"There is no independence," said Blythe, who represented Central Westmoreland in the House of Representatives between 1989 and 2007.
"Everybody knows it is supposed to be that you vote according to what is best for your constituency and the country in general. That is what is supposed to be done. But if leadership in the party takes a position that (they believe) is best for the country, they expect the MPs on their side not to go against it," he said.
"So, if you are looking at MPs truly voting conscience - no, or what they think is best for the constituency or the country - no. What the leadership says they believe is best and everybody falls in line. You might have one or two bold MPs who will abstain in a vote, but you are hardly going to find them voting against."
Blythe said: "Unless you hear them come and say it is a conscience vote, if you don't hear that from Parliament, then it is party line."
Blythe, who claims to have used absence is his way not to kick against the pricks, said he was never afraid to speak up about what he thinks is right. He said, however, "If you wish to move up the ranks, you are going to think seriously about going against leadership."
With a studied view on how the parliamentary process works, Blythe told The Gleaner that he holds no hope that any opposition senator will break ranks and join with the Government to secure the passage of the bills.
"It won't happen," Blythe said.
Bartlett, meanwhile, said the JLP has put on "a strong position on the table and I don't think we will see anybody breaking ranks".