The center of the complaint by the parliamentary opposition relates to the matter of the Speaker ruling to allow Mr. Jason Hamilton, (the man appointed a few days ago to be Attorney General), to be installed in the Assembly and given the right to vote on a matter that was already being debated by parliamentarians, in two previous sittings that were adjourned. The Bill in question was the Senators (Increasing of Number) Bill, 2013.
Tuesday’s meeting of the Assembly was a resumption of the sitting held two weeks ago, on Tuesday 15th January, when all parliamentarians had already spoken, except MP Glenn Phillip, MP Dr. Denzil Douglas and MP Mark Brantley. When the House resumed, it was expected that the meeting would have proceeded directly to the continuation of the debate with the three members.
Thereafter it would have moved to the committee stage for any amendments, then the third reading, followed by a vote by members.
However, according to opposition parliamentarians, what happened on Tuesday was that the Speaker of the Parliament, instead of continuing directly with the debate, proceeded to facilitate the taking of an oath by the new Attorney General, to install him as a member in the Assembly.
This, however, was in direct contravention of the rules of parliament, said one opposition MP, who argued that the conventions that govern the operations of the National Assembly, clearly stipulate that once the House has been adjourned, or suspended, then upon the its resumption, it shall do so from the point where it left off, and no other matter, such as the taking of an oath, shall intervene. But the MP from the opposition went on to explain, that even if there were to be a change on the Order Paper, which in simple language is the agenda, then a question (for approval) must be put to the members, for an amendment. However this was not done.
The claim is that the Order Paper was amended solely by the Speaker.
However, opposition members, including the Leader of the Opposition, complained that they were blocked by the Speaker on various occasions from fully expressing their objections.
Other arguments have come from some who once served in parliament, lawyers and members generally in the public. The underlining theme however is that what occurred in the Assembly was a miscarriage of justice facilitated by the government and the leaders of the parliament. As one former MP stated Wednesday (30th January) on local radio, the Speaker erred when he allowed the Attorney General to take the oath in the middle of a debate.
But the views of callers to local radio talk programs have also condemned the actions of the Speaker, with some calling for his resignation. However supporters of the government have also, though in smaller numbers, made their views known, indicating that there is nothing wrong in what was done by the government.
A press release from the Office of the Prime Minister on Wednesday 30th January, 2013, confirmed that “He (Mr. Hamilton) was appointed Attorney General and Senator in the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly…”
However, there is also some debate about whether or not the Attorney General could be classified as a senator. There is no argument they admit, that when properly sworn in (in the Assembly), the Attorney General is a member of the law-making body, but is not a senator, given what is stated in Article 26-2 of the Constitution of St. Kitts and Nevis, as follows:
“The number of Senators shall be three or such greater number (not exceeding two-thirds of the number of Representatives) as may be prescribed by Parliament.”
Before Tuesday’s sitting of parliament, the Assembly was already comprised of three senators; namely, Mr. Nigel Carty and Richard Skerritt from the government benches and Mr. Vincent Byron Jr. on the opposition side. Therefore, it is argued that it is unconstitutional for there to be four senators as determined by the government and facilitated by the Speaker.
One opposition spokesman stated the only way the number of senators can change, is when it is so prescribed by parliament; not the government, not the Governor General, not the Speaker, but the parliament.
The spokesman said that even the government is very much aware of what is required by the constitution and this is why the effort was being made by the government to introduce The Senators (Increasing of Number) Bill, 2013. Such a Bill was only passed after the sitting and after Mr. Hamilton was sworn in this week.
The government however has a different perspective and as one anonymous source has indicated to this media house, the government is countering the argument of the opposition by indicating that the same Section 26-2 in the lower paragraph, also goes on to state, in part, “Provided that at any time when a person who is a Senator holds the office of Attorney-General the number of Senators shall be increased by one.”
No way, shouted an opposition member, to this media house. What that section means, they explained, is that if an existing senator, someone who was already a member of the Assembly was being appointed to the post of Attorney General, then the number of senators could be increased by one; because one of the existing senators would be leaving his post and so a replacement is what would be necessary.
One thing is certain therefore; and that is, some semblance of legal action is expected to emerge from the proceedings in the Assembly on Tuesday.
Section 36- (1) of the Constitution also allows for such court action. It states, in part,
Determination of questions of membership
36 – (1) The High Court shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine any question whether-
a) any person has been validly elected as a representative;
b) any person has been validity appointed as a Senator;
However, Section 30 of the constitution states, in part:
Appointment of Senators
30. – (1) Of the Senators-
a) one-third or their number (excluding any Senator who holds the office of Attorney-General) shall be appointed by the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Leader to the Opposition; and
b) the others shall be appointed by the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister.
(2) In this section “one-third” means, in relation to a number of Senators that is not a multiple of three, one-third of the next higher number thatis such a multiple.
The debate, after the debate, will continue, though not in the Assembly, but perhaps the halls of justice.
Hamilton was administered the Oath of Allegiance at Tuesday’s sitting of the St. Kitts and Nevis National Assembly in the presence of all Members.
Mr. Hamilton made his first comment in the lawmaking body as Attorney General during the Committee Stage on Tuesday when he moved a motion to amend The Senators (Increasing of Number) Bill, 2012 to read The Senators (Increasing of Number) Bill, 2013.
On Monday (28th January) Mr. Hamilton was administered the Oaths of Office and Allegiance as Attorney General by Resident Judge His Lordship Mr. Justice Errol Thomas in the presence of His Excellency the Governor General Sir Edmund Lawrence, Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas, Members of the Cabinet and family members.
He becomes the Federation’s fifth Attorney General since Independence. He is the fourth non-elected Attorney General. Patrice Nisbett was the only elected Attorney General in independent St. Kitts and Nevis. He served from 2010-2013.
Previous Attorneys General were Mr. Tapley Seaton, Q.C.; Delano Bart, Q.C.; Mr. Dennis Merchant.