Thu | Feb 25, 2021

Gov’t appeals SOE ruling - Bunting’s remarks on Senate debut brings out revelation

Published:Saturday | December 19, 2020 | 12:15 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Newly minted Senator Peter Bunting is congratulated by Leader of Government Business Kamina Johnson Smith moments after he was sworn in at Gordon House in Kingston yesterday. Bunting will also serve as leader of opposition business.

The Andrew Holness administration is challenging the Supreme Court’s ruling that the detention of five men under the states of emergency (SOE) was unconstitutional.

Speaking in the Senate yesterday, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith revealed yesterday that the Government had taken steps to appeal the court’s decision.

Her comments came during debate on the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2020 and the Evidence (Amendment) Act, 2020. Debate was later suspended to be continued and concluded in January 2021.

In a brief comment on the issue, Minister without Portfolio in the Ministry of National Security Matthew Samuda revealed that the Government had filed an appeal on October 29.

Johnson Smith disclosed the challenge after newly installed Leader of Opposition Business Peter Bunting referenced Justice Bertram Morrison’s ruling in the controversial issue.

She rose on a point of order urging Bunting not to comment on the matter which she said was sub judice and as such should not be debated. Johnson Smith, who is also the leader of government business, noted that under the standing orders, it was not appropriate to discuss the matter in the Senate.

“While I understand your interest in the matter and your desire to discuss it, the matter is before the court,” she said.

Acting Senate President Charles Sinclair responded to the point of order: “Senator Bunting, my ruling is that you tread cautiously in respect to the comments that you make and if I see that you are going to cross the line, I will stop you.”

The new opposition Senate leader said he was only reciting the findings of the Supreme Court ruling, which was already in the public domain. He said repeating the judgment could not prejudice the Government’s appeal.

“The court found that the situation which led to the detention of the detained men did not qualify as an emergency or satisfy the situation described in Section 20, Subsections (2) and (5) of the Constitution.”

Justice Morrison ruled in September that the detention of Everton Douglas, Nicholas Heat, Courtney Hall, Courtney Thompson and Gavin Noble were unconstitutional. The men had been detained for extended periods in at least three parishes.

Morrison declared that the men’s constitutional rights and the Constitution itself had been violated by what was described as executive detention.

Bunting, who had earlier taken the oath of allegiance, becoming the eighth opposition senator, reminded lawmakers of their solemn promise to uphold and defend the Constitution of Jamaica, noting that the pledge was obligatory.

Defects in the law

He said that he had commented on the case to highlight “a collective failure on our part as legislators to recognise the defects in the law but also a failure in repeating the voting to extend the states of emergency when the situation did not qualify as such”.

When the states of emergency had been presented in the Lower House for debate during the previous session of Parliament, Bunting, then a member of parliament, had insisted that the measure was unconstitutional and, therefore, voted against it.

While remaining tight-lipped during the so-called Senate saga involving the former People’s National Party treasurer Norman Horne, Bunting yesterday referenced the issue, tongue in cheek, while commenting on the need for constitutional reform.

He said that certain “constitutional office holders and, indeed, investigative journalists had to grab the bull by the proverbial horn to enable the Senate to be fully constituted”.

Bunting argued that the need for constitutional review was impatient of debate.

As a three-term legislator in the Lower House, Bunting said the experience he gained over the period would be utilised in the Upper House.

He hailed the work of Donna Scott-Mottley, his immediate predecessor as leader of opposition business, for her constructive leadership in the Senate.

“I intend to rely on her experience to help me master the intricacies of this House,” he said.