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Sunday, December 08, 2013
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Volney: Speaker can’t move me
St Joseph MP Herbert Volney is maintaining that Speaker Wade Mark cannot “unseat” him in Parliament at tomorrow’s first sitting of the House. When Parliament convenes for the 2014 budget presentation by Finance Minister Larry Howai, the St Joseph MP said he may pay Mark “a courtesy call.” Volney said, “The fact is, I don’t expect the Speaker to act without jurisdiction and rashly. If he acts rashly then I shall have my day elsewhere. The Constitution is very clear. They cannot unseat me at this time.”
Volney who was fired as justice minister from the PP Government over the Section 34 debacle said he did not see himself being removed physically, nor can he be suspended, expelled or his seat declared vacant. Volney said he has a battery of lawyers, some of whom are foreigners, waiting to pursue the matter “just in case.”
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar wrote Mark querying whether the St Joseph seat should be declared vacant after Volney resigned from the UNC and joined forces with Jack Warner’s Independent Liberal Party.
“I have come from a very dignified past. After sitting all these years on the bench, I am not confrontational. If the Speaker acts contrary to law, which I do not expect to happen, my attorneys will take the necessary action in the courts to seek redress. I am not going to be confronting the Speaker in the chamber.” Volney said he was not surprised by the PM’s move.
“This is not about Herbert Volney, you know. This is about Jack Warner. I think the PM wants to send a message to all her parliamentarians that if they act, as I have, that she will put them under pressure.” He questioned how many people the PM can take to court. “How many people can she force into submission?”
Maharaj: It will be misconduct in public office
If Mark vacates the seat tomorrow, former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj said his actions would be tantamount to being unconstitutional, illegal, null and void. “The Speaker would also be conducting misconduct in public office.” Maharaj said he can’t see Mark vacating Volney’s seat. “As a matter of fact, if the Speaker vacates his seat under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, the Constitution says there must be Standing Orders in order to implement the act.”
Maharaj said the Government would have no power to vacate the seat under Section 49 of the Constitution. Section 49 A of the Constitution (sometimes referred to as the Crossing the Floor Act) cannot be implemented unless Standing Orders are made. “If they violate Section 49 because there are no Standing Orders, they would be acting illegal.” If Volney is removed by force, Maharaj said Volney can do three things:
• Ask the court to declare what they have done illegal. He can also ask for damages against the Speaker personally.
• Resign his seat. Force a by-election and claim damages against the Speaker and Members of Parliament.
• Refer the matter to the DPP and COP to investigate a criminal offence of misconduct in public office.
“Volney can also seek special damages with regards to what he would have earned when he was an MP. The court can award him punitive damages for the Government being reckless and disregard of law. Past governments have obeyed the law and Constitution. But this Government has shown that they are undemocratic and can overthrow the Constitution and rule of law. It was done on many occasions.”
Insisting that Volney is a lawful member of the House, Maharaj said unless a court declares him not to be in Parliament or there is an authority under the Constitution to have him remove by the Speaker, “he cannot be removed lawfully.” He explained if a member has not been following the Standing Orders, the Speaker has the power to put him out or ask the marshall to remove him.
“This is not that issue. The issue is, he is an elected member of the House and the Constitution says how he is to be removed if he moves from one party to another. So no Standing Orders have been made.”
Basdeo: Anything can happen tomorrow
Questioned if Volney can be forcefully be removed at the first sitting, political analyst Maukesh Basdeo said “there are two schools of thought” on the issue. One involved political principle and whether Volney, having joined the ILP should follow the example of Warner by resigning to revalidate his terms as MP. “The other is the legality as whether the law will permit Volney from vacating his seat.”
What could be the worst case scenario? Basdeo said if Mark declares the seat vacant, “then Volney would have 14 days to challenge the ruling.” If this should happen, Basdeo said, “I foresee it can go all the way to the Privy Council. It will come down on how the court will rule. This can be a lengthy process.” The Speaker, Basdeo said, has the option of declaring the seat vacant before or after the budget is read.
“Everything is in Mark’s hands. If he decides to give a ruling on Monday or to rule after the budget, that is his perogative. Anything can happen on Monday.”
Seetahal: Speaker should seek legal advice
Asked if Mark can declare the seat vacant or defer the matter tomorrow, Dana Seetahal, SC, said he would have to seek legal advice. “The Constitution makes provisions for the entire procedure, but he can do it based on the Constitution. I would imagine that he would seek to get advice before he does anything.” Messages left on Mark’s cellphone yesterday were not returned. Mark is in South Africa leading a delegation at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference.
Section 49 A (1):
“Where circumstances such as are referred to in Section 49(2)(e) arise, the leader in the House of Representatives of the party as a candidate of which the member was elected, shall so inform the Speaker in writing of those circumstances and the Speaker shall, at the sitting of the House of Representatives next after he is so informed, make a declaration that the member has resigned from or has been expelled by the party, as the case may be.”
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