By Ken Richards
BASSETERRE, St Kitts (WINN) -- High Court Judge Darshan Ramdhani began hearing arguments from both sides on Monday, on whether the court has jurisdiction to intervene to have the St Kitts and Nevis parliament debate the motion of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Denzil Douglas brought by opposition leader Mark Brantley in December 2012.
The speaker and the attorney general insist that, given the separation of powers between the executive, the parliament and the judiciary, the court cannot order the speaker to have the motion heard. Elected opposition MPs who took the matter to court in an attempt to have the motion heard in a timely manner, argue that their democratic rights have been infringed.
One of the lawyers representing the respondents, Dr Henry Browne, told Justice Ramdhani on Monday that the case was not a difficult one, and that while the claimants – the elected opposition MPs -- want the court to mandate the speaker to do certain things, “Your Lordship does not have the authority to do so”.
He argued as well that, while the claimants were banking on an implied right that would allow the court to favour their arguments, one could not imply a right into the constitution unless provision is made for this by the constitution.
Browne suggested that the court cannot interfere in the internal management of the parliament.
“What they want is for you to tell the speaker to put the motion before parliament, and you can’t do that,” the attorney told the judge.
Simone Bullen-Thompson, the attorney representing the attorney general, urged the court against trespassing on the rights of parliament.
She insisted that there was no breach of any constitutional rights in relation to the status of the motion of no confidence. Responding to questions from the judge, however, she conceded that if he rules that there is an implied right, then it would mean that there is a case to be heard.
Justice Ramdhani had earlier said that the case being made by Browne in particular suggested that the court should go ahead and hear the substantive motion of no confidence case.
However, the government side made it clear it was not keen on this, preferring that the court first rule on whether or not it feels it has the right to intervene to have parliament debate the motion.
By lunchtime, the lead attorney for the opposition MPs, Douglas Mendes, began to make his clients’ case, explaining at length how government is instituted by the governor general following a general election, and the role that a motion of no confidence plays in the parliamentary lifespan.
He cited what he described as examples of implied rights, also making the case that the other side was ignoring the questions of rights and how existing rules should cater for those rights.
“All that has happened with the motion of no confidence is that the speaker has refused to put it on the order paper,” Mendes told the court.
He pointed out that back in December 2012 the speaker had acknowledged that the motion should be heard in a timely manner, after other matters including the then budget were dealt with.
And in the latest update on the case, Justice Ramdhani has indicated that he will announce his verdict as soon as possible. The hearing wrapped up on Monday afternoon with Browne arguing strongly that no provision of the constitution had been breached because of an applied right.
According to the attorney, the section of the constitution pertaining to that could not be used by the court to intervene in the matter. Calling it constitutional heresy, he queried whether the court was satisfied that a provision of the constitution has been breached by the delaying in the tabling and hearing of the motion of no confidence.
That’s after Mendes reminded the court that there was a constitutional right to bring a resolution of no confidence and have it be heard in a reasonable time. Mendes argued that the court can address the matter under section 96 of the constitution, and that the High Court has jurisdiction to grant relief – relief Mendes suggested could include invasive relief to force the speaker to table the motion. He also defended the motion as a proper resolution of no confidence, countering claims to the contrary by the respondents.
Republished with permission of West Indies News Network