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End parliamentary immunity, says former Speaker

According to Isaac, the privilege which is extended to MPs in the Constitution of Antigua & Barbuda has been “bastardised” to “score political points”.

Isaac posited that she believes that privilege was “meant to protect individuals who were basically whistleblowing” and added, “I think that the purpose for which it was intended is being corrupted…and used to score political points against people who have no defense.”

Isaac, who is the current chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), has been before the courts in recent months for charges relating to her tenure as executive secretary of the Board of Education.

She argued that her own circumstances were not the main impetus for her call to remove immunity, but admitted that there were cases where she felt she had been defamed in Parliament.

“I have seen the abuse twice, where I am concerned, and the matter was one that was before the courts and the Standing Orders prohibit such behaviour… Unlike the old days when you had to be in Parliament to hear what was said in Parliament, it is now broadcast – not only locally but streamed internationally.

“So when you say things about people; when you libel people, when you hurt their reputation, their business and their family, it has literally gone abroad. The parliamentarian can then sit back in his chair and say ‘well, they can’t do anything to me, I have immunity’,” Isaac said.

Speaking to OBSERVER media on the matter, she suggested that provisions be introduced into law that would allow “the individual who feels wronged to apply to come back to the same Parliament and defend themselves”.

“There have been instances in my years in the chair…I had to call on members to desist in what they were saying. But once you have started, the damage is done…It’s in the public record forever and ever. I’m bringing it up, in light of the fact that we’re discussing constitutional reform. It is not about me personally – I have never liked it. I’ve been saying it for all the years that I was in the chair,” she said.

OBSERVER media tried to contact the Attorney General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin to respond to Isaac but he could not be reached.

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