High Court dumps Attorney General’s parliamentary committees case

High Court dumps Attorney General’s parliamentary committees case

May 2., 2012 – Demerara Waves –

The High Court on Wednesday threw out a case brought by Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, saying it had no legal power to determine the proportional composition of Committees of the National Assembly.

“It therefore does appear that the complaint of the Attorney General has been made to the wrong forum. The forum for a complaint of this nature is the National Assembly itself and not the court,” Chief Justice, Ian Chang said in a 30-page decision.          

With the Committee of Selection having been made up of four representatives each from the governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and one from the Alliance For Change (AFC), Nandlall had asked that that committee and all Standing Committees be made up of 10 members.

And out of a 10-member committee, he had wanted the  High Court to rule that the PPPC must get five representatives for its 32 National Assembly seats, APNU four for its 26 seats and AFC one for its seven seats.

APNU Vice Chairman, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine said “it’s probably the least surprising ruling of all time. We find it a completely predictable decision,” he said.

“The people have voted for change and we believe what has happened today is consistent with the cry of the people for change and once our actions are just, we have no difficulty with it,” said APNU lawyer and parliamentarian, Basil Williams added.

The Chief Justice disagreed with Nandlall that the 4-4-1 committee composition violated Guyana’s Constitution. “The court holds that the motion of the Attorney General is legally misconceived in that the affidavit in support of motion contains no allegation of fact capable of supporting a finding of constitutional breach by any of the respondents or by the National Assembly,” he said.

Noting that the Attorney General’s facts, as alleged, are legally incapable of supporting his claim to a constitutional breach, Chang said dismissed the motion. “That being so, this court had no further jurisdiction to inquire into this matter. To do so would be to inquire into the internal proceedings of the National Assembly which the court has no jurisdiction to do,” he added.

The High Court awarded costs to Opposition Leader, David Granger in the sum of GUY$75,000 and the Speaker of the National Assembly GUY$40,000.

Chang explained that the High Court  was unable to read into the provisions of Guyana’s Constitution a mandate that composition of the parliamentary Standing Committees- more particularly  the Standing Committee of Selection- must reflect proportionately the number of seats allocated to the parties in the 65-seat National Assembly.

He explained that the High Court has no jurisdiction to inquire into the exercise of the Speaker of the National Assembly of his discretion under the Standing Orders nor into the implementation of his decisions by the parliamentary staff insofar as these decisions relate to the internal proceedings and procedures of parliament.

The Chief Justice explained that if the National Assembly has acted inconsistently with the relevant Standing Order, then that is a matter not for the court but for the National Assembly itself. That, he said, is because the Standing Order speaks  literally to the balance of parties and not balance of percentage if seats. While those are matters for the Speaker and not for the court, he noted that the National Assembly cannot act in contravention of the constitution but can contravene its own Standing Orders “which is not law.”

Another key observation made by Chang is that the constitution does not at all speak to the numerical strength of the Standing Committee of Selection or mandate that the Committee of Selection must come from the membership of the elected members of the National Assembly. “Therefore, neither the question of the numerical strength of that Standing Committee nor the question of proportional representation which relates to such elected members can arise as a constitutional issue,” he said.

The Chief Justice noted that the Constitution has not mandated in any of its provisions that the membership of any of the Standing Committees must be derived wholly or in part  from the elected members of the National Assembly. “As such, the question of proportional representation in relation to the membership of any of the Standing Committees cannot constitutionally arise,” he added.

He called it a “constitutional misconception” that the Committee of Selection must be comprised of elected members of the National Assembly- either wholly or in part.

The Chief Justice also noted that it is the National Assembly that fixes the numerical strength of its elected membership and there appears to be no constitutional limitation on its power to fix the numerical strength of its membership. “If so, it is difficult to conceive that there would be any constitutional limitation on the power of the National Assembly to fix the numerical strength of the membership of any of its Standing Committees, more particularly the Standing Committee of Selection which is not one of the Standing Committees mandated under the constitution to be established by the National Assembly,” he added.

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