QC Campbell gives legal opinion on matters in Parliament
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February 9, 2018
QC Campbell gives legal opinion on matters in Parliament

Long-serving attorney, Queen’s Counsel Parnell Campbell has concluded that from the standpoint of the law, what happened in Parliament last week was a storm in a teacup.

During episode 891 of the programme “The Law and You” on Monday, Campbell gave his legal opinion on the procedures that may have been taken in the pursuit of the respective sides’ parliamentary goals.

Firstly, Campbell questioned the Opposition’s strategy of walking out of Parliament because of the silence of the Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves on his alleged involvement with Yugge Farrell, when formal questions could have been posed to the Minister in the House.

The lawyer said he was not surprised that the Minister did not make a statement, but “when the members of Parliament walked out, I was surprised at that, because I anticipated that there would be questions on the Order Paper, directed at the Honourable Camillo Gonsalves… but how could the Opposition walk out of Parliament leaving unanswered questions?”

He said on the Order Paper for the House of Assembly, there were 10 questions tabled by the Opposition, but not one directed at the Minister of Finance.

“I found that strange, because there was some agitation directed at the Honourable Camillo Gonsalves, by the Opposition, agitating that he ought to make a statement, but not one of them tabled a question to him,” he mused.

The second issue that the QC dissected was the one that has been most controversial, following the events of last Wednesday, namely whether the Speaker was correct in allowing the amendment of the Opposition’s ‘No Confidence’ motion, to a motion of confidence in the Government.

“My brothers and sisters, these two motions are opposite sides of the same coin,” he explained, reading both motions to demonstrate how they reflect each other.

Consequently, he reasoned, “in my view, there was nothing in either of these motions that both the Opposition or the Government could not have debated what they came to debate, without changing a word [of their original points].”

Therefore, following this, Campbell stated that he could not agree with the Opposition’s argument that the Confidence motion the Government put forward was not an amendment, but a completely different motion.

“Well, I beg to differ, because an amendment hasn’t got to follow the exact wording, but it has to follow the sentiment of the challenge,” he stated.

“An amendment can take various forms, but where a government is facing a motion of no confidence, it is a common technique that governments use all over the world of proposing an amendment to the Opposition ‘No Confidence’ motion, to express confidence in the Government,” he stated.

The Speaker of the House of Assembly himself, Jomo Thomas, has since denounced his own decision to allow the amendment, saying he ‘erred’ in doing so, because the Constitution should have reigned supreme.

However, Campbell opined that the Speaker had not been mistaken. He stated, “I want to say I agreed with the original ruling of the Speaker; he was not mistaken at all, because proposing an amendment to an Opposition No Confidence motion is routine.”

Finally, the lawyer analyzed the bringing of a ‘No Confidence’ motion by the Opposition at the time that it was done, and whether the Speaker should have allowed the motion to move forward.

He said that Section 47(2)a in the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines does not allow for the automatic debate of the no confidence motion by the use of the word ‘consider’. “Some people have argued that the word ‘considered’ there means you have to debate it. Can’t be so. To consider means to bring it to the attention of the House, for the House to decide what to do with it,” he explained.

Bringing a ‘No Confidence’ motion at the time that the Opposition did was to introduce a duplication of attacks against the Government in Parliament, the lawyer said.

The Estimates debate and the Budget debate are both two confidence/no confidence in the Government debates, he stated, and “According to Parliamentary tradition, any Government that loses a vote on the Estimates, on the Appropriation Bill, has to resign, because the vote on the Appropriation Bill and the vote on the Estimates are regarded as tests as to whether the Government commands the support of a majority of the House of Assembly.”

Further, “The same things they were coming to debate in their no confidence motion were the same things that the Estimates were designed to speak to.”

Standing Order 38 was also violated by the motion of No Confidence according to Campbell, because it is out of order to discuss a motion on the same subject matter as a Bill anticipated in Parliament, in this case the Appropriation Bill.

Thus, Campbell opined, “the Speaker would have been quite correct to allow Dr Gonsalves to move his motion that the Opposition No Confidence motion should have been put aside or postponed.”

Much ado over nothing was the verdict at the end, the same objective in the ‘No Confidence’ motion perfectly capable of being achieved by the debate on the Estimates and the Budget.

“If you file a motion of no confidence and you don’t know that somebody in the Government side was planning to cross, you were just trying a thing. It’s not a genuine motion where you honestly feel that you have a chance to bring the Government down,” Campbell stated.

He paid no heed to the claim that what had happened was undemocratic, replying firmly to those claiming this, “You can’t say it’s undemocratic; democracy is the rule of the majority.”(KR)