An injunction has been lodged against Speaker of the House of Parliament Claudius Francis to restrain from the ongoing Privileges Committee proceedings being taken against Opposition Leader Allen Chastanet.
According to Chastanet, a High Court ruling delivered on Monday, states that, the House Speaker in his capacity as chairman of the Privileges Committee “is restrained from conducting any business” of that committee as it pertains to referrals that were made by him (Francis) on October, 11 to the Privileges Committee, in respect to complaints that were made against the claimant (Chastanet) by members of parliament (MPs) Richard Frederick and Dr. Ernest Hilaire, respectively.
The subject of this current proceedings, the court decision stated, will be halted “until the determination of the claim filed herein for the relief under the constitution or further order of the court”.
Subsequently, explained Chastanet, the matter has been adjourned for December 1 and 2 for the hearing of the ‘substantive claim’.
“So, in essence the court sided with our application for an injunction. And the Speaker of the house, by the order of this injunction is not to proceed with the process that he outlined in the parliament,” Chastanet told reporters, at a press briefing, Tuesday.
There continues to be more fascinating twists in the matter involving the Micoud South MP and the Privileges Cmmittee , under the chairmanship of House Speaker Francis on the impending Referral Complaints matter.
On Monday, House Speaker Francis disclosed that the upcoming hearing involving Chastanet, is now scheduled for November, 2.
According to Francis, the matter will be dealt with expeditiously and he will ensure that there is transparency in the Privileges Committee proceedings.
More interestingly, the house speaker disclosed that the Privileges Committee hearing will be done in an “open session” so as to dissuade the public from any suspicions of unfairness in the rulings.
“I will be seeking a ruling from the House that a referral of this matter, if any, be on the basis that the proceedings are in open session,” Francis told reporters at a press brief, Monday.
“Whilst, I do not see how this process is advantageous to the Leader of the Opposition, it is what we shall request, ” he added.
Referring to the house speaker’s statements, however, Chastanet declared that Francis was not granting him any favour , and that it is a case of him (Chastanet ) defending his constitutional rights.
Unperturbed by the House Speaker’s announcement of a November, 2 hearing of the Privileges Committee, Chastanet reiterated: “The injunction applies to the statements and the procedures that he (Francis) outlined in the House of Parliament on the 11th of October.”
In bringing more clarity to the issue, the Micoud South MP explained that, “The court does not have the ability to ‘injunct’ the house on its proceedings …”
During the initial stages of the proceedings, an October 14 letter sent out by Chastanet’s legal team to the House Speaker indicated that there were “procedural mistakes that were being made”. More importantly, he said, “Those procedural mistakes were tantamount to impacting and infringing on my constitutional rights.”
Chastanet recalled that the letter highlighted there was a “prescribed methodology” for bringing a matter before the Privileges Committee. The injunction, he added, highlights that the speaker did not follow those procedures.
The opposition leader further explained that when a complaint is made in the lower house, “it is to be in the form of a written motion to the speaker” outlining the breach that has been committed and how it is in contravention of the Privileges rules.
“When the speaker receives that, his job is simply to determine whether …it meets the litmus test,” said Chastanet. “Is it frivolous, is it something that is substantive to the business of the house, is it something that ought to go to Privileges (Committee).”
He added that once the speaker agrees “in the affirmative” then the motion is presented to the house “in the form of a motion”. After it has been presented in the house as a motion, “the person claiming that they have been aggrieved is given 20 minutes to speak to the house, debate the bill and basically defend his /her application …and expand on the application as to why the individual feels that anybody has been in breach of the privileges.” The defendant is then given 20 minutes to present the rebuttal; and all these proceedings are conducted in the house of parliament.
Chastanet explained that the motion is then put up for debate, and after the debate there is a vote. “The vote is not to determine who is guilty or to pass judgement; the vote by the house is simply to determine if there is enough here to substantiate going to the Privileges Committee.”
He added that once that vote is taken and the majority in the house decides that it goes to the Privileges Committee, then it (the motion) will go to the committee.
In essence, declared Chastanet: “The speaker bypassed that entire process. He never said what the complaints were, and he never put it to the house and he simply sent it directly to the Privileges Committee.”
The Micoud South MP claims that, the procedure was conducted “against my constitutional rights …and infringing on my constitutional rights.”
Meanwhile on the governing side, and for his part House Speaker Francis indicated that this is not the first such matter to be brought before the Privileges Committee. Referring to the ongoing matter, he said “both the Leader of the Opposition and the MP for Choiseul/Saltibus were present and fully participated. That meeting held that an action taken by the former administration was improper, illegal even.”
Noting that he was duty bound not to reveal “the details of the meeting.” Francis said, he would “however, seek the authority of House to make public the contents of that meeting”.
He added: “What I can tell you is that as a result of the former administration an affected individual has advised his solicitors to file an action against the Attorney General for redress.”
Chastanet insists that his defense is basely solely on two major factors, which deals with ‘Breach of the rules’ and ‘Contempt of the house’.
The opposition leader contends that the house speaker’s actions were not in keeping with the Standing Orders of the House of Parliament in Saint Lucia.
Chastanet said his last course of defense was to head to the courts “and ask the courts to intervene.”
The opposition leader disclosed that on the morning of the court hearing, lawyers for the house speaker approached his legal team and reported that the “speaker has decided to withdraw on the proceedings.”
Chastanet stated that his lawyers “had to fight very hard to get the courts not to take that at face value” and so, demanded some written commitment on behalf of the speaker.
He said, it took the courts “hours to finally decide to provide a judgement, which was the constraining order …which again, validates the claim that this process is flawed.”
Is the Speaker overarching his mandate? never in history has any Speaker of the House taken to himself such powers so blatantly in his privileged capacity as we see today.
As it is written ….’ it took the Court “hours to finally decide…………that this process is flawed”
The outcome is left to be seen; in a way let this be a lesson for the future. I wonder is he fit to be the Speaker?