The PPP/C blundered by not challenging the constitutionality of the National Assembly’s decision to suspend Bishop Juan Edghill.
Bishop Edghill was last month suspended from the National Assembly by virtue of a motion accusing him of gross misconduct. The motion was moved and carried by the government’s side of the House.
In effect, the motion deprives Bishop Edghill of his constitutional right to participate in the work of the National Assembly. The motion is not dissimilar to the gag order which the National Assembly imposed in 2012 on then Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Clement Rohee.
That gag order followed on the heels of a motion which was ploughed through the House and which sought to limit Mr. Rohee’s right to speak, pending the outcome of a finding by the Committee of Privileges. The PPP/C had challenged that decision in the court. The court ruled that the National Assembly could not infringe Rohee’s constitutional rights as a member of the National Assembly.
The then Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Raphael Trotman, had ingeniously attempted to make the distinction between Rohee speaking as an elected member and as the Minister of Home Affairs. Justice Ian Chang in his ruling said that Rohee’s status as Minister had no relevance to the case. He ruled that it was Rohee’s elected status and not his tenure as Minister which gave rise to his right to speak in the National Assembly.
The then acting Chief Justice in his ruling said “…it is the view of this court that Mr. Rohee’s right to speak in the National Assembly derives from his office as a member of the National Assembly and not from his office as an executive Minister. This, his right as an elected member of the National Assembly, must be concomitant with his constitutional duty to speak for and to represent his electors in the National Assembly who, in turn, have a concomitant right to be represented”.
This ruling is relevant to the right of Bishop Edghill to participate in the work of the National Assembly. It is also relevant to the means by which he can be prevented from exercising such a right.
It is hereby contended that the constitutional right of an elected member of the National Assembly cannot be deprived or restricted by virtue of a motion, other than a motion which follows from the finding of the Committee of Privileges.
In other words, it was improper for a motion to have been approved for consideration of the House for the charge of gross misconduct when the determination of gross misconduct, as was the instance in the Rohee matter, was not adjudicated by the Committee of Privileges.
Edghill was not found guilty of any misconduct by the Committee of Privileges and therefore the motion was premature. It was also ultra vires of Edghill’s constitutional rights as a member of the Assembly. Those rights cannot be denied other than via a motion stemming from the findings of the Committee of Privileges. It is only the Speaker and the Committee of Privileges which can pronounce on the issue of gross misconduct.
Juan Edghill had refused to comply with a directive from the Speaker to take his seat during consideration of the Estimates of the 2018 Budget. The Speaker then ordered Edghill to leave the Assembly. Edghill also disobeyed this directive. There followed a ruckus in the Assembly.
The Speaker could have referred the matter to the Committee of Privileges. This would afford Edghill the right to due process on the charge of gross misconduct. This did not happen, because he was sanctioned for gross misconduct by way of motion.
The absurdity of this is obvious. Any side of the House can, with a one-seat majority, silence or restrict the participation of a member in the National Assembly. In other words, if someone is caught scratching his private parts or sleeping during a sitting, the side of the House with a one-seat majority can have that person sanctioned for gross misconduct by way of motion.
This is not to say that Juan Edghill could not have been sanctioned outside of a finding of the Committee of Privileges. The Speaker has the power to hold Edghill in contempt just as how a former Speaker had held Cheddi Jagan in contempt for throwing down the Mace.
The Speaker has the authority to suspend Bishop Edghill for as long as he, the Speaker, deems fit, if he the Speaker finds the Bishop to be in contempt, which was clearly the case. But the Bishop cannot be suspended by virtue of a motion, other than a motion which seeks to implement the findings of the Committee of Privileges.
The PPP/C should appeal the suspension of Juan Edghill. It is unconstitutional.
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