October 4, 2011
Dr. Francis Alexis: AG’s vote not invalid

The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) intends to seek a ruling of the Court in relation to the legality of Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan having voted in the process to elect a Speaker of the House last year.{{more}}

Speaking on the ‘New Times’ radio programme yesterday, Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace said he does not agree with the opinion given by constitutional expert Dr. Francis Alexis Q.C., which was read in the House of Assembly last week.

Alexis is of the opinion that Jones-Morgan’s participation in the process to elect a Speaker of the House of Assembly does not invalidate the election.

Alexis’ opinion was sought following objections by the NDP to the December 2010 election of Hendrick Alexander as Speaker.

Opposition Member of Parliament and area representative for the Northern Grenadines Dr. Godwin Friday, during the January 20, 2011 sitting of the House, objected to the Attorney General having voted in the House.

Back then, Alexander said that he would seek clarification on the issue.

Friday contended that under Section 41(3) of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Attorney General, who is a public officer, cannot vote on matters in the House.

Section 41(3) states “The references to the members of the House in section 30(4) of this Constitution, subsection (1) of this section and sections 51(4) and 57 of this Constitution shall not include the Attorney-General, if he is a member by virtue of section 24(3) of this Constitution.”

Section 24(3) says “At any time when the office of Attorney-General is a public office, the Attorney-General shall, by virtue of holding or acting in that office, be a member of the House.”

Section 30(4) deals with circumstances under which the office of Speaker can be vacated; section 41 (1) looks at questions proposed for decision to be determined by a majority vote of members; 51(4) addresses the appointment to the office of Minister from among members; 57 addresses the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries from among members.

At the August 11, 2011 meeting of Parliament, Alexander announced that he had received the executive summary of the opinion, but was waiting for the full report to be made available before revealing what the ruling on the matter was.

The executive summary of Alexis’ opinion stated that the Attorney General is a member of the House, based on the constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

He indicated that the Attorney General was not caught by section 42 of the constitution, which states that “Any person who sits or votes in the House knowing or having reasonable grounds for knowing that he is not entitled to do so, shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding one hundred dollars or such other sum as may be prescribed by Parliament for each day on which he so sits or votes in the House.”

The document further stated that a clear and explicit provision was needed to prevent the Attorney General as a member of the House from voting.

It further noted, however, that there was no such provision within the local constitution in sections 41.3 or 41.1.3.

Section 41 of the constitution deals with the issue of voting in the House and according to the executive summary, even the participation in proceedings of the House by a person who is not at all a member of the House, does not invalidate the proceedings.

Alexis also contended that leaving aside the vote of Jones-Morgan, Alexander was elected Speaker “on a clear and comfortable majority” by members of the House present and voting.

Alexis, in his report, also indicated that the proposal of McCaulay Peters for Speaker was simply put forward, but not seconded as is in keeping with the standing order 4.2 of the rules of the House, therefore meaning that Alexander was elected unopposed.

The matter has remained unresolved for some time, with members of the Opposition New Democratic Party walking out of the May 24, 2011 session of Parliament because of the Speaker’s failure to provide a response then. (DD)