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Strangers in the House: Williams and Tufton entitled to sit

Featured Attorney General Patrick Atkinson addressing journalists at Thursday’s (February 12) media briefing at Jamaica House. Listening keenly is Minister with Responsibility for Information, Senator Sandrea Falconer. Attorney General Patrick Atkinson addressing journalists at Thursday’s (February 12) media briefing at Jamaica House. Listening keenly is Minister with Responsibility for Information, Senator Sandrea Falconer.
KINGSTON, February 13, 2015 - Attorney General Patrick Atkinson says Arthur Williams and Dr. Christopher Tufton are the rightful holders of the two Senate seats, which were the subject of a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court of Jamaica.

 In a 13-page opinion presented on Thursday at press conference at Jamaica House, Atkinson, said that despite submitting letters of resignation, former Opposition Senators, Arthur Williams and Dr. Christopher Tufton, remain members of the Upper House, based on last week’s Supreme Court ruling.

Mr. Atkinson says his opinion is based on the Court’s judgment that the Leader of the Opposition’s request for and procurement of the pre-signed and undated letters of resignation and authorization, and the manner of their use to effect the resignation of the Senators, were “inconsistent with the Constitution, contrary to public policy, unlawful and is, accordingly, null and void.”

In light of these rulings, the Attorney General has indicated that “I am of the opinion that Mr. Williams and Dr. Tufton still are members of the Senate and are entitled to take their seats.”

Relying heavily on the ruling handed down on Friday by the three-member Supreme Court panel, the Attorney General, concluded that “in the light of the Court's declaration that Senator Williams' and Senator Tufton's letters of resignation were null and void; they did not resign and therefore there were no vacancies in the Senate."

He pointed out that  "it would follow, that having regard to the mandate of the Constitution, concerning the numbers of persons that may be appointed, the appointment of two additional senators would be unconstitutional."

Mr. Atkinson, reiterated that the Supreme Court had given a declaratory judgement, to the effect that the resignations of Mr. Williams, and by extension, Dr. Tufton, are null and void.                               

He added that the Court has, by inference, ruled on the invalidity of  the appointments of  the replacement senators.

Regarding Senate President Floyd Morris' role in the matter, the Attorney General said it was his opinion that the President does not have the authority to make a determination regarding the validity of  the appointments of  Ruel Reid and Dr. Nigel Clarke as senators. According to Mr. Atkinson, it is a matter that falls within the remit of  the Court.

If court action is contemplated, the Attorney General pointed out that Section 44 (1) of the Constitution is “instructive” in determining the outcome where any person, who has been elected or appointed to the House of Representatives, or Senate, ceases to exercise his or her duties, as a member.

He said, in such a case, the Constitution stipulates that the matter “shall be determined by the Supreme Court or, on appeal, by the Court of Appeal, whose decision shall be final.”

“In these circumstances, either the affected parties should agree (on who will occupy the Senate), or the matter should be referred to the Supreme Court, pursuant to Section 44 of the Constitution of Jamaica,” Mr. Atkinson stated.

The Attorney General said his opinion in the matter was predicated on his position as the Principal Legal Advisor to the Government, as outlined in Jamaica’s Constitution.

Mr. Atkinson indicated that while this does not stipulate that “anybody must accept the advice” or position proposed, “they usually do.”

In the meantime, it is expected that Messers Williams and Tufton will take their seats in the parliament when the senate convenes today.

Dr. Nigel Clarke who along with Ruel Reid was appointed to replace Tufton and Williams in the Senate, has signalled his intent to give up the post.

In a statement last night, Dr Clarke said: “While I accept that there may be differing views on this important matter that may ultimately prevail, I have taken note of this opinion.

I accepted an invitation to serve my country and, since receiving the instrument of appointment from His Excellency, the Governor General, in November 2013, I have considered it a privilege to do so.    

The opportunity may arise for me to again serve my country and I would be happy to do so under the right circumstances.”

Reid, on the other hand said he would await direction from the Leader of the Opposition.

The full text of the Attorney General's Statement is attached.

Last modified onFriday, 13 February 2015 18:23

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