Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, at his press conference on Thusday following the Privy Council ruling, hours earlier. PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE –
Attorney General Reginald Armour is claiming victory following Thursday’s Privy Council ruling that Parliament was wrong for extending the term of incumbent local government councillors and aldermen. He strongly cautioned that any misrepresentation may be in contempt of the court.
Armour referred to the Privy Council’s minority report of two judges against the majority ruling of three, and the overturned Court of Appeal ruling, to support his statements.
The Privy Council upheld UNC activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj’s legal challenge against Government’s extension of the term of incumbent local government representatives by a year.
The AG, at a media conference, however, said all of the judges had rejected the argument that there had been a breach of the Constitution by the amendments to increase the term from three to four years.
“Nevertheless, as a responsible government, this Government accepts this ruling of the majority of the board, which disagreed with the unanimous Court of Appeal ruling referred to in its interpretation of the amendments.”
He said it was worth emphasising that the Privy Council said the Government was not seeking to disenfranchise the rights of citizens to vote representatives into office.
“I emphasise this, because this decision is, of course, one with an undoubted political dimension, and there will be those who seek to misrepresent the decision that was handed down… in order to make political capital out of that decision. I suggest and caution that any misrepresentation of this judgment will be wrongly a misrepresentation that can border on contempt.
“So I urge all citizens to take the time to read the judgment carefully, and I would urge the media, particularly the print media, … I would recommend to the responsible media, print media, to publish this judgment in full as a pullout in the Sunday newspapers, so the citizens of this country can read this judgment at their leisure and not have to rely on misrepresentations of the judgment by those who would wish to misrepresent what it says to make political capital out of it.”
He said the legislation being interpreted by the Privy Council was passed by the Parliament.
“I don’t accept that the interpretation of the Privy Council can be interpreted to mean that the decision speaks to an over-reach by the Government, because the legislation was passed by a vote of members of the Parliament, and the legislation is the will of the Parliament. I don’t think there is anything in the judgment that says the Government usurped anyone’s rights, I think they used language to the contrary.”
Armour said he had the decision under active consideration, in consultation with senior counsel, and would then give advice to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
Asked whether local government elections would be called due to the ruling, he said since the ruling had only been handed down three hours prior to the media conference and was still under consideration.
“The decision ultimately of when an election is to be called will be up to the PM.”
Armour was asked whether the decisions of the Court of Appeal were still relevant given that the Privy Council was the highest court in the land.
“The decisions of the Court of Appeal are not irrelevant, and I have returned to them because the Privy Council has been careful to refer to passages out of the Court of Appeal judgment and to applaud those passages. The Court of Appeal rejected the violation claim of the constitutionality amendments and that has been endorsed by the Privy Council, and to that extent, the Government has won on that point.”
Armour said he was not there to address political criticisms as he is a lawyer.
He was asked what happens to the regional bodies, if monies would be paid to them, and if the aldermen and councillors would continue to be paid.
“The judgment is respected by the Government. The Government is a law-abiding government, I expect the Government would continue to act responsibility as it gets advice to the meaning of the government and what it does next. I can’t advise the councillors before I advise the Prime Minister. I’m prepared to in due course after I advise the Cabinet, but to ask me what advice I have to give to other people before I have time to fully consider this judgment, fully to take into consideration the advice I will get which I will take to Cabinet, I think is an unfair question which should not lead to a headline.”
In an immediate response to the AG’s conference, Balgobin-Maharaj said Armour’s interpretation is a dangerous one.
“Any attempt by an AG to handpick certain comments from a minority ruling of a judgment, or a ruling that has been reversed in an appeal, simply on the merits that it fits with their own personal narrative rather than abide by the substantive ruling of the majority members of the panel is not only unethical and corrupt, but it only indicates that Mr Armour is determined to make up his own interpretation of the law even when it conflicts with a court ruling.”
In a release, he said paragraph 51 of the judgment states: “For the reasons given in this judgment, the Board is unable to agree with the Court of Appeal that the amendments to sections 11 and 12 of the MCA, increasing terms of office from three to four years, applied to the incumbent councillors and aldermen. The Board therefore allows the appeal.”
Balgobin-Maharaj said any suggestion by the AG that he will ignore the majority and instead focus on the minority ruling when he makes his recommendations to Cabinet “is dangerous to the point of bordering on illegality and treachery.”
Opposition MP Dinesh Rambally asked why Armour was attempting to stifle debate on the ruling through his remarks to the media. In a statement on his Facebook page, Rambally said the AG made no attempt to clarify what this landmark judgment means for the rights of citizens of TT, and/or outlining the way forward.
“Instead Mr Armour was incoherent, vague and displayed contempt for his own position as guardian of the public interest. What is more disturbing and frightening however is the fact that Armour needlessly and wrongly told media houses that they could be found in contempt of court if they were not careful on how they reported on this matter.
“I wish to tell the public that this is a civil matter impacting upon the rights of citizens and the requirements of what constitutes good governance. Armour’s baseless threat can be interpreted as a dictatorial attempt to stifle widespread public discourse on this landmark ruling.”
Rambally urged the public and the media to debate and discuss the ruling vociferously and without fear.