The President should be told of all assurances and undertakings given to the Parliament with respect to the implementation of legislation before he is asked to proclaim any act.
This, according to acting President Timothy Hamel-Smith, would guard against the recurrence of the Section 34 fiasco.
Hamel-Smith's comment was a clear reference to the allegation that then-justice minister Herbert Volney had breached undertakings given to both houses of Parliament not to proclaim the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act until all the measures required for its implementation were in place.
Section 34, which was proclaimed on August 30 ahead of the majority of other sections of the Administration of Justice Act, caused an uproar because it allowed United National Congress financiers Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson and other persons accused in the Piarco bid-rigging and corruption scandal to apply to the court to discharge their cases.
Since then, that section of the act has been repealed.
Hamel-Smith made an unprecedented statement on the issue yesterday in which he, acting as President, made a commitment to ensuring Parliament learns the necessary lessons from this mistake, which he describes as a "blot in our parliamentary system of government".
Hamel-Smith stated first that Section 34 was "fundamentally flawed" and people had every right to be concerned how such bad legislation could have been passed and proclaimed, despite all the checks and balances in our parliamentary system.
"It was simply wrong for legislation to be passed which imposed a time limit for the prosecution of indictable crimes which would start to run from the date of the alleged offence, without at least (a) excluding serious white collar crimes, including corruption and money laundering; or (b) permitting the court to exercise its discretion dependent on the facts of each case," he stated.
Hamel-Smith, who noted that the whole Section 34 affair had shattered public confidence in the country's political systems, said he felt "a sense of personal responsibility to ensure that this failure of on the part of our parliamentary system, of which I am an integral part, does not recur".
He presided over the Senate when the legislation was debated and passed.
In recognising that something peculiarly wrong had taken place, Hamel-Smith offered suggestions for reform to avoid any repeat "of the failure of our parliamentary system in permitting flawed legislation to be passed and brought into force by proclamation" (by the President, on the advice of the Cabinet).
At the level of the President, he recommended all assurances and undertakings be verified by the clerk and affixed to bills submitted to the President for proclamation. "Such a procedure would "eliminate the potential for the President proclaiming legislation without relevant prerequisites being fulfilled," he said.
On the level of the Parliament, he said an electronic register of undertakings and assurances should be maintained which records and monitors undertakings and assurances given by parliamentarians and records the implementation of these undertakings and assurances.
He said the current system of proposing amendments to legislation, in which "amendments may be merely called out over the floor of the House, is inefficient and prone to error. Instead, he recommended that in proposing amendments to legislation, the Parliament introduces technology which would permit each clause of a bill and the amendment to be viewed on a large screen by members of a Select Legislative Review Committee "so that the visual context and appropriateness of amendments and their consequences would be more readily appreciated".
Hamel-Smith also recommended that Parliament engage the services of at least two permanent professional members of staff whose sole duty is to advise MPs on legislative and financial matters.
The acting President also made specific recommendations for constitutional reform.
"In considering constitutional reform, the following matters be taken in account.
"It is essential that all parliamentarians be engaged on a full-time basis"; (b) that there be an increase in the number of non-executive parliamentarians—perhaps 100 non-executive parliamentarians, since it is impossible for any single individual to perform the functions of managing a ministry, participate in Cabinet, attend Parliament, participate in parliamentary committees and carry out the duties as a constituency representative.
The acting President lamented that one of the vital aspects of the parliamentary system "which should act as a protective mechanism to limit executive excesses"—the Committee System—was "broken" and "not performing as was intended under the Westminster model".
Hamel-Smith began his statement by noting that his first official duty after having been sworn in as acting President on September 18 was to receive a petition presented by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, on behalf of concerned citizens, on the Section 34 controversy.
He said since then his actions taken in connection with these matters included raising the issue with the Prime Minister, reviewing the Cabinet notes and minutes relative to the proclamation of the act, reviewing the Hansard reports of the debates in both Houses relative to the passing of the act, reviewing the address made by the Chief Justice, reviewing the release issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions, noting the statement made by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on September 20 on the issue, noting the many views expressed in various media—including press releases, consulting with independent senators relative to matters arising from the passing of this act, consulting with the chairman of the Integrity Commission and seeking the advice and views of eminent counsel.