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CCJ debate threatened; No apology coming from me - Nicholson

Published:Monday | October 26, 2015 | 7:05 PMEdmond Campbell

DEBATE ON three bills to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica's final appellate court could end prematurely without further participation from Opposition senators, if the Senate President Floyd Morris and Government senators refuse to lift the suspension handed down to Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte, and tender an apology to her.

However, Leader of Government Business in the Senate A.J. Nicholson, made it clear yesterday that there would be no apology coming from him to Malahoo Forte, unless it can be established that she took a bathroom break when summoned by the president to produce a letter she read into the records of the Senate, last Thursday.

Malahoo Forte had pledged to furnish a copy of the letter to the president, purportedly sent to former justice minister Dorothy Lightbourne in 2010, by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The letter reportedly indicated that the Law Lords would be willing to visit Jamaica to hear appeals to the final court.

"The crux of this matter is whether there was a bathroom break or a lunch break. If there was no bathroom break there would be nothing for me to apologise for - I don't know about the president," said Nicholson at yesterday's Jamaica House media briefing.

Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Tom Tavares Finson, in a letter to Morris which was copied to his Government counterpart A.J. Nicholson, said Opposition senators would not continue to participate in the debate on the CCJ bills until Morris and Government senators apologise to their colleague.

"The member's rights have been severely trampled on as there is nothing to justify her suspension. It is therefore appropriate that the suspension be immediately terminated and the president and Government senators offer their apologies," Tavares-Finson said yesterday in a statement to the media.

At the same time controversy is stirring about the absence of any official signature on the supposed letter from the Privy Council. Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding said yesterday that if the letter is unsigned he would investigate its authenticity when he gets a copy.

He expressed surprise that Malahoo Forte would present as authentic a letter from the Privy Council which had no signature.

Repeated requests for a copy of the letter over two days (Thursday/Friday) in the Senate by the President Floyd Morris and the subsequent failure by Malahoo Forte to produce it, led to the naming of the member followed by her suspension.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness had also demanded the immediate withdrawal of the suspension of Malahoo Forte and an apology by the Senate President. He warned that if this was not done the "Government should not expect to see the Opposition senators in Parliament." President Morris will hold a press conference today to discuss the issue.