By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate editor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — Local attorney Martinus Francois has won the first round in a legal action filed against Saint Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet over his failure, contrary to the provisions of the constitution, to nominate a person to serve as deputy speaker of the House of Assembly following the resignation of former deputy speaker Sarah Flood-Beaubrun and her subsequent appointment as a Cabinet minister.
During the first hearing on Thursday before Justice Godfrey Smith of a constitutional motion filed in the High Court by Francois, the judge ordered that the trial in the matter will commence on February 13, 2019, when the following issues will be considered:
1. A declaration as to the proper construction of the phrase “as soon as convenient” appearing in Section 36(1) of the constitution of Saint Lucia; and
2. A mandatory order requiring the attorney general to advise the prime minister to appoint a deputy speaker of the House of Assembly within three months or such other reasonable time as the court deems fit, failing which all proceedings of the House would be stayed until further order.
The relevant section of the Saint Lucia constitution provides as follows:
36. Deputy Speaker
(1) When the House first meets after any general election of members and before it proceeds to the despatch of any other business except the election of the Speaker, the House shall elect a member of the House, who is not a member of the Cabinet or a Parliamentary Secretary, to be Deputy Speaker of the House and if the office of Deputy Speaker falls vacant at any time before the next dissolution of Parliament, the House shall, as soon as convenient, elect another member of the House to that office.
The position of deputy speaker of the House of Assembly has been vacant for most of the term of the current parliament, a situation that has led to debate locally as to the legitimacy of its proceedings.
Flood-Beaubrun, the member of parliament for Castries Central, was elected deputy speaker on July 12, 2016, following the general elections held the previous month. However, pursuant to the constitution, she was disqualified from holding that office barely two weeks later, when she was appointed minister in the ministry of finance, economic growth, job creation, external affairs and the public service effective July 25, 2016.
The opposition St Lucia Labour Party (SLP) has indicated that none of its six elected members are willing to accept a nomination as deputy speaker and Chastanet’s self-inflicted dilemma has been created by his appointment of all 11 elected members of his United Workers Party (UWP) as Cabinet ministers, thus disqualifying all of them from nomination and election as deputy speaker as required by the constitution.