Thu | Jun 20, 2024

Golding threatens legal action over shielded AG’s opinion

Published:Saturday | April 20, 2024 | 12:10 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter
Opposition Leader Mark Golding (centre) speaking at the People’s National Party (PNP) press conference at the PNP headquarters in St Andrew yesterday. The PNP called a press conference to speak on the Constitutional Court ruling in relation to Director o
Opposition Leader Mark Golding (centre) speaking at the People’s National Party (PNP) press conference at the PNP headquarters in St Andrew yesterday. The PNP called a press conference to speak on the Constitutional Court ruling in relation to Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn’s extension. Looking on are Phillip Paulwell (left), PNP chairman, and Senator Donna Scott-Mottley, shadow minister of justice.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding says the parliamentary Opposition may ask the court to compel House Speaker Juliet Holness to release the legal opinion of the attorney general (AG) on how reports sent to Parliament are to be tabled.

Golding has maintained that the Speaker’s position and her directive on how reports should be treated are flawed.

“We are calling once again for the opinion of the Attorney General’s Chambers on this matter, which we’ve been asking for, for months and months, to be released to all parliamentarians so we can see what the Attorney General’s Chambers said about the procedure for tabling reports,” said Golding at a People’s National Party (PNP) press conference on Friday.

The press conference followed a ruling by the Constitutional Court hours earlier that an extension granted last year to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn to remain in office was unconstitutional.

Opinion does not belong to Speaker

The Opposition had brought the matter to court.

Golding said the Opposition may take a similar route to have the AG’s opinion released to legislators in the House of Representatives.

“This is a matter which we will be looking at closely as to whether we’re going to have to take this matter to court for a ruling as well … .

“That opinion is not an opinion belonging to the Speaker. The Speaker acts on behalf of Parliament in seeking the legal advice of the attorney general on a matter that affects all members of parliament and indeed all parliamentarians, including the Senate,” the opposition leader said.

Last November, Holness ruled that reports by the auditor general on public bodies had to wait for two months before being tabled to allow relevant ministers time to comment on them, in accordance with the Financial Administration and Audit Act and the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act.

Similarly, at that time, Holness announced that she would end the practice of tabling all Integrity Commission (IC) reports upon submission.

She implemented a new rule, which mandates that special and annual reports of the IC will go to its oversight committee for deliberations first and then tabled later on with the committee’s own report.

Investigation reports from the IC would be tabled “as soon as possible” and then sent to the IC Oversight Committee.

Golding said the AG’s opinion should be shared with all parliamentarians so they can see what the principal legal adviser to the Government has said on the matter.

The AG’s Chambers recently denied an access to information request made by The Gleaner, stating that the document is exempt from disclosure on the grounds of legal professional privilege.

It said only Holness could waive that privilege.

At the same time, Golding said there are other issues “of grave concern”, including the matter of the political ombudsman and the way in which “that has been conflated into the Electoral Commission of Jamaica”.

A flawed approach

Golding said this move, which makes the commissioners, collectively, the political ombudsman by the Government is a flawed approach.

“We objected to it when the legislation was brought to Parliament and it was rushed through again with indecent haste and, of course, it has not worked. Local government elections have come and gone and they were unable to effectively play any role in dealing with the kind of issues the political ombudsman is established to deal with,” said Golding.

He said these are issues which are “highly contentious” and ought not to be brought under the commission, a body established to ensure consensus between the country’s main political parties on electoral matters.

Further, Golding said this is to reduce tension and ensure that Jamaica’s democracy functions in a way that is in keeping with good governance, law and order and ensure a peaceful society.

He said this is another issue on which the Opposition feels that the Government has gone down “a very wrong path”.

“But they are stubborn and headstrong and it is only when we take them to court and win there that they have to reconsider, wheel and come again, as was done with NIDS (National Identification System) and will have to be done with the DPP,” said Golding.

kimone.francis@gleanerjm.com