Saint Lucia
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Kenny: Politicians and Academics not in Harmony with the People’s Aspirations!

On February 28, 2023 the Philip J. Pierre government officially offloaded the Privy Council as Saint Lucia’s apex court in favor of the Caribbean Court of Justice, established in 2005 and headquartered in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In a related presentation the prime minister pointedly declared it “a shame that in Saint Lucia some people still believe colonialism has a conscience, and that even in 2023 the people of this region cannot determine their own destiny.” The unopposed House decision was followed by some poorly attended public meetings with tunnel-visioned CCJ apostles. It goes without saying that there would be no undoing what already had been done.    

Such concerned citizens as were reckless enough to address the long dysfunctional local justice system with its chronicled nightmarish consequences were dismissed as “stooges of colonialism.” The more persistent horseflies were showered with faint praise or swatted aside by the salaried influencers and their accomplices. “We agree the local justice machinery is in need of urgent attention,” one of them acknowledged with a cackle, “but why conflate the two issues? Where’s your spirit of nationalism? Are you suggesting black people can’t settle their own disputes?”

Several references were made to unspecified “cultural differences between us and our former colonizers” that seemed to suggest justice depended first and foremost on the ethnicity and origins of adjudicators. (If indeed that were the case, whites who appeared before the CCJ would have much cause for pause!)

 Back bencher Kenny Anthony had been among the initial advocates for the establishment of the Caribbean’s own court of final resort. He had also served three terms as Saint Lucia’s prime minister. Now he took in both hands the opportunity to confirm to fellow advocates that while his own country had not yet come aboard, he had not deserted the cause. At the recalled changing of the guard on February 28, this is what he said: “Part of the problem is that the debate over whether or not to retain the Privy Council has been misplaced. We did not explain enough to the people of the region how CCJ, by its establishment, will change the issue of justice and make a difference in their lives. It’s a question of having judges who understand our region, our culture, our people.”  

Additionally: “Those of us who have addressed the CCJ issue over the years have often spoken in ideological and philosophical terms. I have come to accept that while certain principles are to us sacrosanct, these same principles are meaningless to the people of our region. To the rank and file. They are not preoccupied with completing the circle of our independence, even though it matters very much to people like me, to judicial personnel, to academics.”

He glanced at the Speaker, suggested he ignore his watch. He had earned the right to more than the usual allotted hour or so, he said, before returning to the day’s menu. “We are concerned with the lofty ideals of the CCJ but not with what concerns the people.” He said he had come to accept that “the people of the region and of Saint Lucia are preoccupied with the issue of access to justice, to the quality of justice, justice delivered by judges who are fair, independent and impartial and clothed with integrity. The people are preoccupied with what’s happening in the magistrates’ courts. Saint Lucians are preoccupied with why our courthouses have been closed for several months. We can’t be talking about what adopting the CCJ means in terms of our independence without resolving the people’s concerns. It is in the magistrates’ courts that the injustices take place. We have not yet grabbed that first rung of the judicial ladder.”

On the other hand, for those who insisted on first fixing our acknowledged inoperative justice system before acceding to the jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice, he had an important question, albeit rhetorical: “Why is it that in all its years as our final court the Privy Council was never able to bring any reform to the judiciary of the Caribbean?” Might the answer have something to do with our all-talk post-independence elected leaders?  

He came to why the day’s government had decided against holding a referendum on the matter of the Privy Council v the Caribbean Court of Justice. He had led his party to victory in 1997   with a 16-1 majority. Following a loss in 2006, he recalled, he was returned 11-6 to office in 2011, at which time he had decided—in consultation with then opposition leader Stephenson King—”not to risk litigation by proceeding without a referendum toward the CCJ.” Ah, but now the prime minister was Philip J. Pierre who had been handed on July 26, 2021 a two-thirds House majority—“the key to unlock the door to ensure the required parliamentary process is completed.”

Meanwhile, other Saint Lucians at home and abroad, many less concerned about the CCJ itself   than with how it came our final court, are wondering what the Pierre government with its super majority might do next without a referendum—the purpose of which is to permit the citizenry, not just its blatantly partisan and self-interested parliamentary representatives, to vote on proposals. Popular fears were heightened when recently the government casually amended Section 36 of the Constitution, a move many remain convinced was selfishly motivated. 

Section 36 in its original form:  “When the House meets after any general election of members, and before it proceeds to the dispatch of any other business except the election of Speaker, the House shall elect a member of the House who is not a member of the Cabinet or a Parliamentary Secretary to be Deputy Speaker of the House, and if the office of Deputy Speaker falls vacant at any time before the next dissolution of Parliament the House shall, as soon as convenient, elect another member of the House to that office.”

For several years the phrase “as soon as convenient” had been a bone of contention among Saint Lucia’s parliamentarians, the less-read predictable straw grabbers in particular. In one discombobulating instance a professed constitutional expert proffered interpretations of the contentious four simple words that made little sense even to literate citizens yet were repeatedly cited by some parliamentarians as well as the more tunnel-visioned propagators of party propaganda.

It remains conjectural whether the earliest drafters of the nation’s laws anticipated the arrival of our Humpty-Dumpty parliamentarians. Saint Lucia’s Interpretation Act unambiguously advises that the words of our statutes be understood in line with their ordinary meaning. The Literal Rule of interpretation holds that the words in a statute are given their ordinary and natural meaning and do not need to be analyzed further for different meanings. There is also the Mischief Rule that in interpreting statute the court should determine the mischief the legislature intended to correct in the legislation “by going into a voyage of discovery to determine the history of the legislation.”

Shortly before the 2011 general elections, when Stephenson King was Saint Lucia’s prime minister, the Kenny Anthony-led opposition chaotically prevented House Speaker Rosie Husbands-Mathurin from getting on with the people’s business until a deputy Speaker had been delivered by “the government.” Indeed, not until every rule in the House Standing Orders had been egregiously violated, not until the opposition MPs had declared their colleagues on the government side “renegades, criminals and money launderers” and stormed out in protest, was the obviously flustered and bewildered lady Speaker able to proceed with the day’s scheduled business.  

In his own time as prime minister, the current House opposition leader Allen Chastanet had triggered another brouhaha over the meaning of “as soon as convenient.” At its first sitting following the 2016 general elections, the House had elected as Speaker Leone Theodore-John with Sarah Flood-Beaubrun as her deputy. For undisclosed reasons the deputy Speaker resigned barely six months later and was handed responsibility for foreign affairs and membership in the prime minister’s Cabinet.

It should be acknowledged that John’s countless appeals to the House to elect a deputy Speaker went largely unanswered—conceivably because her request was made at a time not convenient to the House. On one occasion Prime Minister Chastanet nominated a member of the opposition, perhaps with mischief on his mind. The response was predictable. The Leader of the Opposition later informed reporters he had declined to nominate a candidate to fill the vacancy because to do so “would not at this time be in my party’s best interests.”

Despite regular quarrels that often brought to mind World Wrestling Federation shenanigans, no member of parliament saw any good reason to seek a resolution via the courts. Not even after Speaker John finally resigned for health reasons and was replaced by a lawyer named Andy Daniel. The House carried on regardless, without a deputy Speaker—for which the opposition continues even now to blame Allen Chastanet, despite that Section 36 of the Constitution placed responsibility for the election of a deputy Speaker on the shoulders of each and every MP on both sides of the House!

As earlier indicated, concerned Saint Lucians are now wondering what further liberties this government and future governments will take with the Saint Lucia Constitution. Could it be the current regime believes it was handed in 2021 the right to refashion the Constitution to suit party palates and the hell with the rights of thousands of other citizens that voted for the opposition, not to say further thousands that chose on Polling Day to stay home because they considered neither party worthy of their vote?

Is it inconceivable that there may be among the incumbent party’s own faithful flock some who remain averse to office abuses, not to say abuses of a good thing? In the best interests of national unity and democracy, might the government have chosen, despite its specially empowering majority, to permit Saint Lucians an all-important shot at deciding their own destiny? Isn’t this what Pierre and Kenny Anthony hinted at in their July 28 presentations? That the aspirations of local politicians and academics are not in harmony with the people’s preoccupations? And doesn’t that spell trouble with a capital T? 

Alas, the writing on the wall is not encouraging. Who could have imagined a House Speaker on TV openly declaring “bazooka” (rocket launcher) warfare against critics of the party of which he was once chairman? Who could have imagined Mr. Speaker, in his apparent determination to prove he was serious about his televised threats, warning the leader of the House opposition to follow without resistance his every directive “or face my wrath”—a word associated with the horrors of the apocalyptic Book of Revelation but is not once mentioned in the House Standing Rules and Orders?

The Leader of the opposition was left little choice but to seek justice before a court after the Speaker attempted to set a precedent by dragging him before the House Privileges Committee for alleged misconduct. It is by now common knowledge that having reluctantly acknowledged his procedural faux pas, the Speaker undertook to cancel his scheduled meetings of the Privileges Committee. Since then, nothing has been heard from him on the matter. Meanwhile, a court judge had directed him via a Consent Order to pay legal fees close to $200,000. Alas, a sum that will be paid, with Cabinet approval, out of the people’s treasury. Ironically, had it been the opposition leader who was ordered to pay it, that $200,000 would’ve come out of his own pocket. More on that patently unjust, by which I mean unconstitutional, anomaly at a later date.

Clearly, the Speaker is a slow learner. Recently, at his behest, the MP in charge of government business successfully moved a motion to bar the opposition leader from the House and its precincts until he apologized to another government MP for his remarks relating to the controversial sale of public lands. When the opposition leader rose from his seat and headed out the chamber, the Speaker loudly addressed the House sergeant—at least twice! “Officer, he shall not leave! He shall not leave.”

But the opposition leader did leave, followed out the door by two uniformed police officers. Several minutes later, Chastanet returned to the chamber with the officers close behind. So far as is known by this writer and other informed sources, the Speaker is not authorized to keep an elected member of parliament in his chair against his will. A pending related charge against the Speaker is expected to be argued in court in July. Meanwhile, the government MP has withdrawn his motion that would’ve kept the opposition leader from representing his constituency in parliament for an unspecified period.

The Constitution is certainly being put to the test. A good thing. Just this past week the Privy Council was invited by Ernest Hilaire in his personal capacity to pronounce on a constitutional matter involving his 2017 defamation suit against Allen Chastanet. The board ruled against Hilaire, as had the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court earlier. Commenting to reporters on the latest ruling, he admitted: “The decision cannot be appealed any further.” He would therefore “await the advice of the attorney general on the corrective measures that need to be taken to ensure that the law of Saint Lucia is certain and not left to ambiguity.” The now attorney general had, before his appointment prior to the 2021 elections, represented Citizen Hilaire in several personal court matters. It remains to be seen whether the Constitution will again be modified, seemingly with the interests of colleague-politicians foremost in mind.

By the way, the earlier visited Section 36 of the Constitution has been altered so as “to provide that a person other than a member of the House of Assembly may be elected a Deputy Speaker.” In the process no one spoke of the earlier cited Mischief Rule that requires the legislature to identify the mischief in the legislation it intends to correct.

On the sunny side, it appears Prime Minister Pierre has come a significant distance since 2015, when he debated in parliament the recommendations of the Constitutional Reform Commission. At the time, he had resisted strongly the idea of bringing into parliament “people who do not want to face the hassles and pressures of running for office but want to tell us how to run the country because they believe their education, their background, their class or financial situation give them the right to dictate what happens in this country.”

Permit me to close with a phrase from a time less technologically advanced than the present: Film at 11!