Queen’s Counsel Parnel Campbell says the recently proposed Attorney General’s Reference Bill should have been proposed a long time ago.
On his television programme ‘The Law and You’, broadcast on SVG TV on Monday, May 7, the veteran lawyer explained that the Bill allows the Attorney General to ask the Court of Appeal to interpret parts of the Constitution.
Campbell referred to a situation in February this year, when consensus could not be reached in Parliament on the interpretation of part of Section 64 of the Constitution, relating to the procedure to be used to bring ‘No Confidence’ motions to Parliament to be debated.
“And I am sure I heard the Speaker and the Prime Minister say that it would be a good thing to have the court give an opinion, but under the present laws, the court cannot give an opinion because it has no power … to make an opinion in the absence in a decided case, [which is] brought to the court upon appeal…. And therefore, there must be a new law giving the court the power to answer academic questions as it were.”
He explained that one of the first things a lawyer is taught is that the court does not answer hypothetical or theoretical questions, but only deals with controversy.
“Right now you can’t go to court and say, My Lord what does this part of the law mean?…But if you and someone have a quarrel, in the form of a case, and the case goes to court; both sides argue, the court gives its decision; you appeal its decision, then the Court of Appeal can rule on the dispute…. So if we want to ask the court, what the No Confidence provisions really mean, a law has to be passed to give the court the power to deal with a question like that, in the absence of a controversy….”Campbell elaborated that naturally, a system can’t exist where any and every body can go before the Court of Appeal.
He however said the Bill does not interfere with the rights of anyone.
“The Bill does not interfere with anybody’s right to go to the Privy Council. It doesn’t interfere with your rights in an ordinary appeal and that is what Clause 9 of the Bill says clearly….It is simply an additional device, through which the Attorney General, the Government and indeed the population, can ask the court, ‘What does this mean, in the context of this fact’, and allow the Court of Appeal to provide answers.
I don’t see anything controversial about this at all. In fact, it was a necessary piece of legislation.”Campbell said what he liked in particular about the Bill, is that it allows the court to say that the expenses that any interested party has in instructing counsel, should be paid from the Consolidated Fund.
The Queen’s Counsel also said that even when the Court of Appeal has given an opinion on a matter, that does not mean that one still cannot go to court to challenge that aspect of it, but it simply means that in any future challenge, the Court of Appeal would be fortified by a previous opinion.
He described the Attorney General’s Reference Bill as useful and worthwhile legislation which he looks forward to hearing debated and having passed.