By Caribbean News Now contributor
ST JOHN’S, Antigua -- According to eminent London Queen’s Counsel, James Guthrie, it is now too late to implement the proposed boundary changes in Antigua and Barbuda before the next election.
Currently, a report by the Constituencies Boundaries Commission recommending changes to existing boundaries has been submitted to the speaker of the House, the prime minister has laid it before the House and the House has approved it.
Ordinarily, once any draft order in this respect is approved by resolution of the House, the prime minister shall submit it to the governor-general who shall make an order in terms of the draft; and that order shall come into force upon the next dissolution of Parliament after it is made.
However at this point, in the course of legal proceedings brought by the opposition Antigua-Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP), the prime minister agreed to undertake not to submit to the governor general any draft of an order approved by resolution of the House of Representatives for giving effect to the recommendations contained in the report of the Constituencies Boundaries Commission, pending the hearing and determination of an appeal.
The prime minister has given an undertaking to the court. The appeal will not be determined before Monday, at which point, on April 28, Parliament will have been dissolved by the automatic operation of section 60 (2) of the Constitution (five years having elapsed from the date of the first sitting of the current parliament).
The speaker of the House, Gisele Isaac-Arrindell, on a local radio program on Wednesday, asked aloud, while on a talk-show, “What is there to stop the governor general from signing the order?” which the speaker apparently believes would then make lawful the proposed new constituency boundaries in Antigua.
The speaker concluded that there were no impediments preventing signature, since the constitution trumps any agreement that might have been made.
However, according to Guthrie, whatever the speaker or anyone else may say, the prime minister has given an undertaking to the court. If he breaches it, by submitting a draft order to the governor general before the appeal has been determined, he will be in contempt of court, and so will anyone with knowledge of the situation.
“This is part of the rule of law. To suggest (if this is what the speaker said) the constitution can over-ride the court is dangerous nonsense,” he said.
“The practical effect of the above is that it is now too late to implement the proposed boundary changes before the election,” he advised.
Anthony Astaphan, senior counsel, who has prosecuted the boundaries case in the appeals court, calls the speaker’s conclusions “absurd”.
Astaphan explained that the January 2014 order, which was mutually agreed-upon by both the ABLP and the ruling United Progressive Party (UPP) leaders, means that no action can be taken, on the draft boundaries report, by the prime minister or the governor general, until after the court has ruled.
A similar view has been expressed by Attorney General Justin Simon. The January 2014 order, he noted, prevents the draft boundaries report from being sent to the governor general for signature until, or if, the court affirms the high court’s decision.
“The prime minister cannot act until the appeals court rules in his favour. If the court rules for the ABLP, the draft boundaries report is out,” the attorney general concluded.
Guthrie also dealt with section 65 (5) of the Constitution, which provides that the question of the validity of any order by the governor-general purporting to be made under this section and reciting that a draft thereof had been approved by resolution of the House shall not be enquired into in any court of law.
“This would not prevent an application to commit the PM for contempt of court,” he said.