Letters & Opinion

Humiliation for the Speaker

By Anthony Serieux

For years Claudius Francis has paraded before us lesser mortals his self-conferred “credentials” as a legal mind. He has strutted his stuff in the media and in both houses of our parliament, as President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Assembly. His chairmanship of both bodies has been laced with bravado and arrogance as he sought to display his knowledge of the law and processes of parliament.

Francis was finally brought down to earth this week suffering humiliation in the High Court over his attempt to bring Opposition Leader Allen Chastanet  before the Privileges Committee of the House to answer claims made against him by two government Ministers, Ernest Hilaire and Richard Frederick.

For a person whose behaviour always tends to convey power, the Court ruled that Francis had “no power 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”.

It was the ultimate rebuff for one who had always given the impression that he was schooled in the law although possessing no qualifications, as far as anyone knew. It was also a major public embarrassment for the legal wannabe who has also been slapped with court costs said to be in six figures for his actions.

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The fact that this money will have to be paid to Chastanet, whom he had shown no love for in the 18 months since the St Lucia Labour Party has dominated the House with its numbers must be hurting Francis all the more. But few will have any sympathy for Francis who is widely seen as a bully and upstart, a showoff and impressionist who many say they cannot wait to see his fall.

Some months ago, he was involved in another controversial decision to hold back Chastanet’s pay as member of the House because of his absence from meetings. On that occasion, Francis quoted the Constitution and case law, including a Privy Council ruling to support his decision.

In this particular Privileges Committee case, Francis had no opportunity to practice his legal skills, whatever he believed these to be. He was represented by real-life Attorney Renee St Rose who agreed with lawyers representing Chastanet that Francis did not have the power to refer House members to the Committee to hear complaints of privilege or contempt.

Ironically, Francis had had previous opportunity last October to turn away from his course of action when he was threatened with legal action in the Courts by Chastanet’s attorney if he did not indicate his intention to cancel the Committee meetings that he had scheduled to hear the complaints by the two Labour Ministers.

Whether Francis learns anything from this week’s developments is anyone’s guess. He is widely known for his brazen demeanour, especially in political matters involving the Labour Party of which he was once Chairman. Readers will recall that in December 2021, Francis went to a Magistrate’s Court in company with Prime Minister Philip Pierre reportedly to see that justice was done in a case in which the Comptroller of Customs was seeking to charge Hilaire in a matter involving the illegal importation of a vehicle into St Lucia. The case was withdrawn.

This time, it is Francis who is at the receiving end of Court justice. Opposition Leader Chastanet has called on him to resign as Speaker and dropped a broad hint this week that he would be prepared to table a motion of No Confidence in the Speaker in the House if he fails to quit.

Of course, rubbing salt in the Speaker’s wounds will be the huge costs associated with this court action, which will have to be borne by the State, in essence the people of this country.

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