Speaker to appeal CJ’s ruling on Rohee gag order
“The Court is being used as if it is the supervisor of the National Assembly, it is not a case where the authority of the court is not respected, but it seems as if the House is the child and the court is the parent. The democracy we all cherish is under threat and we all need to play our part”- House Speaker Raphael Trotman
By Abena Rockcliffe
With his highlighted intention to act in the interest of parliamentary democracy, Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman yesterday announced that lawyers representing the House will be moving to the Court of Appeal to clarify whether the High Court has any authority over the National Assembly.
Stressing that his move to court on behalf of the National Assembly will be done “only” to seek clarity on issue of the powers and authority of the High Court over the National Assembly, Trotman said the Chief Justice (CJ)’s ruling didn’t shed much light on that which needs to be made clear.
Chief Justice Ian Chang, in a 33-page ruling, stated that the Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee has a constitutional right as an elected member of the National Assembly to speak on any matter, and that his constituents have a reciprocating right to have their representative in the Parliament speak on their behalf.
The issue at hand stemmed from leader of A Partnership for National Unity, David Granger, filing a no confidence motion in the National Assembly against Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, which was subsequently committed to the Privileges Committee by Speaker Trotman.
That move has effectively seen the Home Affairs Minister being temporarily prohibited from speaking as a Minister in the National Assembly until determination of the matter.
The Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, seeking to overturn the Speaker’s decision, filed a motion in the High Court on November 27, last, which replaced a withdrawn application, asking for a declaration that the decision of the Speaker to commit Granger’s no confidence motion to the Privileges Committee, and prohibiting Rohee from speaking or not recognizing him for the purpose of presenting bills, or making other representations in the house, is unlawful, in excess and without jurisdiction.
However, Granger subsequently described Nandlall’s move to the court as legally misconceived and filed a counter summons in the High Court seeking to strike out the orders being sought by Nandlall. Granger and Trotman were named as respondents in the matter filed by the Nandall.
Granger in his affidavit in support of his summons stated that the declarations and orders sought were without merit. He noted that the decision of the Speaker to send the matter to the Privileges Committee was an internal proceeding of the National Assembly.
The Opposition Leader argued that the court has no jurisdiction to inquire into the validity of internal proceedings of the National Assembly, where there has been no breach of the constitution. He further argued that the Speaker’s decision to commit the no confidence motion to the Privileges Committee is not in itself unlawful.
Yesterday, Trotman told the media “I don’t believe the issue, as to what supervisory if any authority the High Court has over the National Assembly, has been adequately addressed, and in my view, it has been avoided, and I believe that in the interest of our parliamentary democracy this matter needs to be clarified.”
Trotman, stating that the last move to the court marked the fourth since the beginning of the tenth Parliament, asserted that “the Court is being used as if it is the supervisor of the National Assembly, it is not a case where the authority of the court is not respected, but it seems as if the House is the child and the court is the parent. The democracy we all cherish is under threat and we all need to play our part.”
With that being cited, Trotman urged the media to refrain from “sensational journalism.”
Justice Chang in his ruling stated that the minister has a right to speak in the House as an elected member, regardless of his ministerial portfolio. However, Trotman said that Rohee’s portfolio is what matters and is all that is relevant in the National Assembly.
“I am concerned with what is happening in the National Assembly. The motion brought by Mr. Granger says in his capacity as minister, not as a Member.”
Trotman made it clear that his intention is not to dismiss the Chief Justice’s ruling, as it will be considered and reviewed in the Committee of Privileges. However, he kept stressing that the independence of the National Assembly needs to be addressed as “our entire democracy rests on it.”
Trotman expressed disapproval of some of the information submitted to the court, which suggested that Rohee was prevented from generally speaking in the National Assembly, which he said was information misleading the court.
“Regrettably and inexplicably, the honourable Attorney General has sought to convince the Chief Justice that Mr. Rohee was prevented from presenting any Bills, Motions or making any other presentations to the House. This is a blatant untruth.”
The Speaker also pointed out that the day upon which he ruled that the matter be sent to the Committee of Privileges, there was a “scholarly debate” with contributions from both sides, and “Rohee was not prevented from speaking during this session… another misrepresentation by the Attorney General.”
The Speaker then noted that “Both of these seem to have been accepted as fact by the learned Chief Justice, because he was led to believe so by the honourable Attorney General and this is very troubling to me, because it is reflected in the decision of the court.”
Trotman said that he intends to address the aforementioned concerns with Nandlall.
On the way forward, the Speaker said that the Committee of Privileges will be meeting on Monday.
The Committee, Trotman said, is set to examine whether Rohee violated any of the parliamentary standing orders or regulations; if the National Assembly has the power to sanction a minister for failing to resign following a motion of no confidence, and what sanctions are available to the House, if the answers to the first two issues are yes.
He noted that Rohee is a part of the Committee of Privileges and “it is expected that he will be a contributing member of that committee.”
The Speaker said that he is optimistic that all matters relating to Minister Rohee will be resolved before the next sitting of the National Assembly set for January 25. “There has to be a way.”