The Independent Liberal Party (ILP) is now the first group to take the Government to court over the controversial Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014. The bill was passed in the Senate on Thursday night after three days of debate.
“At around two this afternoon (yesterday), we would have filed a constitutional motion, a fixed-date claim form accompanied by two affidavits, in which we sought certain relief from the courts,” said ILP deputy political leader Rekha Ramjit. She is also lead attorney for this matter.
The ILP argued the amendments to the Constitution brought by the bill are in contravention of certain fundamental rights and freedoms of the people.
The ILP is asking the court to declare the provisions of Section 8 of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill which seek to amend Section 73 (the System of Balloting) of the Constitution are likely to abrogate the provisions of Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution, which deal with the recognition, declaration and protection of rights and freedoms of citizens.
Ramjit said Section 8 of the bill breaches the fundamental right of citizens as an elector and also the right of citizens who wish to be a candidate in the general election.
It will be served on the Attorney General.
The ILP is citing Sections 13.1 and Section 54 of the Constitution, which say any law which infringes on the fundamental rights of citizens must be done with reasonable justification and passed by a three-fifths majority of all 41 members of the House.
Ramjit is also arguing the Constitution (Amendment) Bill contravenes the right of freedom of political association and political expression.
They say the vote on election day is the ultimate form of political expression and with a candidate being eliminated in one round takes away that right.
“The right to vote is a fundamental right and the interference with that is what we’re saying,” Ramjit said.
They’re also arguing the new bill contravenes Section 73 of the Constitution which deals with the way MPs are elected. With the new provisions agreed to in the committee stage of the Senate, if two candidates are in the run-off one person must have more than 50 per cent of the vote to enter the House of Representatives. But if there were three candidates in the run-off, a candidate doesn’t need that 50 per cent.
“[It] is inequality of treatment of the candidates in one general election who are both citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. And who have met all the requirements,” Ramjit said.
“It’s the first elections you have to vote, and then get the results with a calculator,” ILP Chairman Jack Warner interjected.”
Meanwhile, ILP Political Leader Lyndira Oudit is calling on President Anthony Carmona to refrain from assenting to the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 when it reaches his desk.
Before the bill becomes law, it first has to go back to the Lower House and then to the President to be assented to.
Oudit said the President has the power under Section 51 of the Constitution to decline. However, she said even though there is no precedent for this happening, the highest precedent in the land is the law itself. She sought to remind President Carmona he once told the public he has powers people may not even know he has.
“We are officially calling on the President to look at what is taking place,” Oudit said. “And we have to take it to the executive, but are prepared to write to the President insomuch as asking for him to not assent to this.”