PRESSURE mounted yesterday on Opposition Leader Andrew Holness to resign when senior Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) parliamentarian Delroy Chuck requested an urgent meeting of the party’s MPs to discuss last Friday’s Constitutional Court declaration in the Senate resignation letters saga.
Chuck, who just over a week ago was appointed the party’s spokesman on justice and was asked to shadow the attorney general portfolio, made the meeting request in a letter to Derrick Smith, the Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives.
He also copied the letter to all Opposition MPs.
Chuck said that, after reading the judgements in the case, he believed “the matter to be of urgent national importance” and as such was urging his parliamentary colleagues to read them.
“In the Westminster System of Government, any constitutional office holder — be it Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Speaker of the House, Chief Justice, or others — who the court rules or declares to act unlawfully and unconstitutionally would be obliged, in all good conscience and honour, to tender his or her resignation, unless there are good and compelling reasons not to do so,” Chuck said.
“I ask that you call an urgent meeting of all Opposition MPs to consider the matter,” he added.
On Friday, the Constitutional Court — comprising justices Courtney Day, Marva McDonald-Bishop, and David Batts — declared unanimously that Holness’s request for pre-signed and undated resignation letters from persons to be appointed Opposition Senators, and his use of those letters to oust Arthur Williams and Dr Christopher Tufton were “inconsistent with the Constitution, contrary to public policy, unlawful and, accordingly null and void”.
The Court made the declaration on a claim filed by Williams after he and Tufton were ousted from the Senate in November 2013 after the acrimonious leadership race for the JLP that pitted Audley Shaw against Holness.
Chuck had supported Shaw in that contest.
The resignation letters were signed by Opposition senators in January 2013 before their appointments, and were related to the JLP’s position on Jamaica accepting the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final court of appeal.
During the trial, Williams’ lead attorney, Dr Lloyd Barnett, had argued that the resignation letter was brought into effect contrary to Williams’ consent, and in contravention of the Constitution. He also said Williams had expressed to Holness that he did not intend to resign.
But Holness’s attorney, Georgia Gibson-Henlin, argued that Williams’ rights had not been breached.
On Friday, Williams expressed satisfaction with the Court declaration.
“Today I feel vindicated from the day that this matter happened in November 2013. This is not about me or Christopher Tufton, it is about the Constitution of Jamaica, and I felt constrained to pursue this action to this stage, and I’m glad today that the Constitutional Court has ruled, and ruled the way they have,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
Later that day, Holness — who appointed Ruel Reid and Nigel Ckarke to fill the two vacancies — said the court declaration would not affect the composition of Opposition senators.
“Mr Arthur Williams, attorney-at-law, who was at the time my chief of staff and also leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, created the letters and advised me on their use and its constitutionality,” Holness said in his statement.
However, on Saturday, Holness appeared to have softened his position, expressing regret at the situation and saying it was never his intention to act unconstitutionally.
“My overriding consideration, as leader of the Opposition, was in discharge of my duty to safeguard the spirit and intent of the constitutional provisions which provide for the protection of the Constitution from changes which may not be in the best interest of the Jamaican people,” he said.
“My action, therefore, in accepting the advice of the claimant, regarding resignation of senators, in that manner, was to ensure the effective administration of the Government for the people, the necessity of which was recognised in the judgement at paragraph 64,” Holness added.
His reference was to Justice Daye’s observation that it was not beyond political leaders and parliamentarians to create a constitutional convention regarding resignation of senators to ensure effective administration of government for the people.
Holness also said that when Williams questioned the validity of the letters, he took the decision of returning, through the Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, all such letters without exception, long before the court delivered its judgement.