While admitting that he erred in the referral of complaints to the Committee of Privileges of Select Committees of the Standing Orders of Parliament, Speaker of the House of Parliament Claudius Francis says there is “no bar on the matter” being sent to hearing, and thus the issue can be pursued by the two sitting parliamentarians involved in this scenario at a later date.
Earlier this week, Opposition Leader Allen Chastanet claimed to have been exonerated in the matter labelled the ‘Privileges Committee Saga’, for allegedly directing accusations and derogatory remarks at members of parliament (MPs) Richard Frederick and Dr. Ernest Hilaire.
In a January 25 judgment, High Court Judge Shawn Innocent ruled that as Speaker of the House, Francis did not have the authority “to refer to the Committee of Privileges any complaint made by a Member of the House of Assembly against another Member in respect of privilege or contempt.”
On Thursday, at a media briefing, Francis sought to clarify his position in this matter. He explained that after the new parliament was constituted, in August 2021 “the Committee of Privileges was the first committee to be set up.”
The House Speaker chairs the committee alongside two government parliamentarians and two opposition parliamentarians.
Francis added: “Therefore, the Leader of the Opposition’s initial suggestion that he was not even aware who comprised the Privileges Committee is false, because he is a member of the Privileges Committee.
The Privileges Committee had actually met and he had participated in a previous meeting of the Privileges Committee.”
As this issue unfolded, on October 24, 2022, a case was set before Justice Innocent for injunctive relief by the Leader of the Opposition against the Speaker, “to prevent the Speaker from proceeding with the Committee meeting and also to hear what the Leader of the Opposition said were breaches of his constitutional rights.”
Subsequently, in his capacity as Speaker of the House of Assembly, Francis said, “I informed the judge that I would not be proceeding with the hearing and that the matter would be dealt with differently.”
He said based on what was discussed, an order was set on October 24 which stated that as Chairman of the Privileges Committee, Francis “is restrained from conducting any business of the Privileges Committee as it refers to the present referral of the matter of the complaint against the claimant by the honourabale members of the House of Assembly…until the determination of the substantive claim for redress under the Constitution.”
The ruling added, “The hearing of the constitutional motion is adjourned to the 1st of December 2022.”
According to Francis, after the matter was adjourned to January 26, “all that happened was a re-statement of the order of October 24 into this order … no relief was given to the Leader of the Opposition on his claim that his constitutional rights were breached.”
Furthermore, contends Francis, though Chastanet indicated that the courts granted him relief “that the matter against him could not be heard, nothing could be further than the truth. All the consent order said is that the reference of 11th October could not be proceeded with.”
Francis argues that there is no difference between the rulings ordered over the two dates. He explained that since the statements made by Chastanet was not directed at Francis, Francis had no authority to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee.
Francis added that, whereas matters under the purview of the Committee of Privileges were previously done in open court, should the matter come up for hearing, it will “now be heard in open House” should either Dr. Hilaire or Frederick choose to bring the motion before the House.
Referring to Chastanet pursuing a no confidence motion in Francis as Speaker of the House of Assembly, Francis says he has no qualms with his issue.
“I welcome at any time a motion of no-confidence by the Leader of the Opposition. I don’t own the Speakership. The House gave it to me, and the House can take it away.”
Notably, according to Francis, the estimated costs of damages due to Chastanet is $75,000 to be paid through state funds.