Last week, two new appointments to the High Court bench were announced. These appointments came against the background of the Ramnarine case, in which there was a four-year delay in giving judgment and an overall delay of 16 years in the final determination of a matrimonial case, which the Privy Council described as “an affront to family justice”.
While I was president of the Law Association, 2008 to 2011, on behalf of the legal profession, representation was made concerning delayed judgments. Current information on this subject suggests the Chief Justice would be wise to include a statement in his opening of the law term address next week about the delay in giving judgments, in light of the remarks of the Privy Council and continuing disquiet within the profession.
I have now seen the Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Bill 2013. The legislation may be a good idea. The recent wipeout of the People’s Partnership in the Tobago House of Assembly (THA)election left the People’s National Movement (PNM)without opposition in the THA. This is not healthy and it follows the long and repeated history of parties obtaining a significant number of votes in general elections but obtaining no seats in the House of Representatives.
However, nothing I write should be taken as a wholesale endorsement of the provisions of the bill. A superficial reading of the bill raises some obvious questions. If an underlying policy of the bill is to disclose in advance who the aldermen may be, then surely, we should be informed who from the list of councillors and aldermen will be the preferred candidate for mayor or chairman of council as the case may be. Why leave us to speculate?
Why is the number of aldermen standardised at four, regardless of the number of electoral districts? Consistency might require that what is effectively a 25 per cent formula proposed to apply to the allocation of seats to the four aldermen should also be used to determine the number of aldermen by applying 25 per cent to the total number of registered electors or the total number of electoral districts in each municipality.
There may be simple answers to questions the public might have, but there will only be inadequate opportunity for the public to hear and digest those answers and to follow the debate on a bill dealing with precious voting rights. I repeat that it is reckless and anti-democratic to introduce significant electoral legislation on the eve of an election and to set a debate timetable for it that permits only rush work.
The legislative history of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago is littered with the deformities produced as a result of rushing significant legislation through both houses of Parliament, with little time for mature consideration of its contents.
The greater the volume of the contents of a bill, the less able are parliamentarians to do more than single out a few of the more monstrous deformities and seek to have those amended. Lesser deformities are overlooked or sometimes accepted as something that might be “amended later”, but such further review rarely takes place, unless, of course, the deformity creates some crisis or inconvenience for the Government or its successor.
The Section 34 fiasco, assuming it was not in fact cleverly planned, was the careless outcome of doing rush work. I could give a number of examples from my own experience in the Senate of the risks that Governments take to have a bill passed in time to suit a narrow political agenda or a drop-dead date prescribed by some international body in a position to sanction our country.
Governments also take calculated risks in passing legislation by a simple majority, well knowing the particular piece of legislation requires passage by a special majority. For example, for many years, we had environmental legislation that could easily have been toppled on the grounds of lack of a special majority. It is acknowledged in the long title to the Enviromen-
tal Management Act passed in 2000, it was necessary to “repeal and re-enact the Environmental Act 1995 and to validate all acts and things thereunder”.
Readers will appreciate that bad legislation does not produce only a one-off unjust or unexpected result.
Everything done under a piece of legislation that is wholly invalid is futile.
While not all of President Anthony Carmona’s recent prescriptions for the operation of Parliament are practical and some of them were encumbered by a lack of appreciation of how Parliament is structured, he was right to castigate Parliament for sitting in the dead of night and into the wee hours of the morning. At the time of writing this column, this apparently is what the Government intends to do with the Municipal Corporations Amend-
Despite Section 34, no lesson has been learnt about the parliamentary duty of care owed to the nation. There will be many more legislative thorns.