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Bad idea for NDP to boycott Parliament – Campbell

Bad idea for NDP to boycott Parliament – Campbell

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Plans by the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) to boycott Parliament have been described as an extremely bad idea by prominent lawyer Parnell Campbell QC.

Campbell, a former attorney general under the NDP administration, speaking on the 810th edition of his ‘Law and You’ programme on SVGTV on Monday night,{{more}} said that he is dissuading the leadership of the NDP from taking a course of action that will see them not attending sittings of the House of Assembly when that entity resumes on December 29.

The NDP has refused to accept the results of the December 9 general elections, claiming irregularities in the Central Leeward seat that was contested between the Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) Louis Straker and the NDP’s Benjamin Exeter. The NDP is claiming victory in that constituency, while the official results show that the ULP’s Straker won the seat by over 300 votes.

Advising the leadership of the NDP on Monday, Campbell said that they should not go through with the threat to boycort Parliament, as the Constitution and the rules that govern the House clearly state what should happen when a party has an issue.

The experienced lawyer noted that the Standing Order 74 (2) provides a procedure by which persons can lose their seats by reason of unauthorized absence from sittings of the House.

Campbell noted that Standing Orders of the House of Assembly are the rules that govern the procedures of the House.

Standing Order 74 (1) says, “Any member who is prevented from attending a meeting of the house shall acquaint the clerk as early as possible of his inability to attend” while Standing Order 74 (2) says, “If any Senator or elected member is absent from the house for more than three consecutive meetings without the leave of the Speaker obtained in writing before the expiration of that period, the Clerk shall immediately after the third such meeting, direct the attention of the member concerned to the provisions of this order. If the member continues to be absent for the next three meetings then unless before the expiration of the last of those meetings the member has obtained the leave of the Speaker in writing or unless the House upon motion made without notice has granted him leave of absence he shall vacate his seat under section 29 (3a) of the constitution.”

Section 29 (3a) of the Constitution states: “A member shall also vacate his seat in the House (a) if he is absent from the sittings of the house for such period and in such circumstances as may be prescribed in the rules of procedure of the House.”

Campbell said that if the leadership of the NDP feels that they must boycott sittings of the House, they must make sure the boycott does not last for the stipulated six meetings.

“… Otherwise your seats will be declared vacant and the High Court cannot grant an injunction to stop that happening,” stressed Campbell, who added, “to me, it does not make sense to go and put any of the seven seats you have at risk, because you are contesting the results in Central Leeward.”

The ULP now holds eight of the 15 seats and the NDP seven.

“By all means, take the matter to court. Place your evidence before the court and the court will give a fair decision in accordance with the law. Even if it is felt that protest action should be taken, that is your democratic right, as long as such protests do not break the law.”

Campbell noted that peaceful protest is a democratic right and should it turn out that the High Court rules that there was something wrong and the seat is declared vacant, “I would be the first to come here and denounce whatever the High Court said has gone wrong.”

Campbell said that he does not want anyone to think that his talk means that he is condoning any deliberate activity that may have occurred in respect to the Central Leeward elections.

“Don’t get me wrong; wrong is wrong and if there was wrongdoing then it should be revealed in the High Court and appropriate action taken by the High Court, but until such time that the matter is ruled upon and adjudicated, I have to follow the Constitution. All of us have to follow the Constitution that says there is now a government in office, duly elected and that provision of the Constitution remains that way until a court declares otherwise.”

He noted that persons have to follow the rule of law, no matter how disappointed and heart-broken they are.

“The law says there are channels of complaint through the High Court and those channels should be utilized. File your complaint in the High Court and let the High Court deal with the matter and until such time as the High Court rules on the matter and if the matter goes on appeal and until such time as the High Court pronounces a contrary result for the time being, we have to understand that there is a government in office duly appointed by the Governor General based on the results of the election as certified by the Supervisor of Elections.”

A few years ago, Campbell was chair of the Constitution Review Commission which drafted a new constitution for SVG, which was rejected by the people and the NDP in 2009 in a referendum.

Campbell said that strangely, the OAS and Commonwealth election observers said that SVG should have a system in which the supervisor of elections is not under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister.

“I smiled when I read that because that was one of the items of the proposed new constitution. We had made provisions in the constitution for an electoral system that would have been totally independent of the office of the Prime Minister, but as we all know that constitution was rejected, so we are left with the existing constitution that places the supervisor of the elections under the minister responsible for electoral matters and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Government,” noted the Queen’s Counsel.

He added, “that does not mean the supervisor of elections is not an independent person, or would not have carried out her functions in an independent manner, but the OAS and Commonwealth team came to the same conclusion.”

He said that on Monday when he was trying to leave Kingstown there was an angry crowd that had gathered on Bay Street and he is hoping for calm in the wake of the elections as, “We all have to live here together and let us hope that good sense will prevail and persons on all sides conduct themselves in accordance with the law and no untoward situation happens.”

Campbell also used the programme to congratulate the ULP Government, noting, “I, for one, for the time being, as long as that constitutional provision remains as it is, I, for one will say congratulations to the Government. If the situation should be ruled against, I would respect that.”

The NDP said on Wednesday that they have suspended all protest action so that persons can enjoy the Yuletide season.(LC)

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