Attorney General backs Speaker’s decision to vacate seats

ROSEAU, Dominica: Attorney General Francine Baron-Royer is backing the decision of Speaker of the House of Assembly, Alix Boyd-Knights, to vacate the seats of two opposition parliamentarians earlier this month.

Leader of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) Ron Greene had insisted that the courts should have made the decision to declare the seats of former prime minister Edison James and Hector John vacant, and not the Speaker.

However, Baron-Royer said the Speaker acted in accordance with both the Dominica Constitution and the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly.

James and John had not attended the House since the December 18, 2009 general elections to protest what the Opposition insisted were irregularities in the poll. The third UWP MP, Norris Prevost, had been boycotting parliament as well, but broke ranks and attended a sitting, therefore keeping his seat.

“The Constitution specifically provides how…a member shall vacate his seat if he absents himself in circumstances prescribed by Parliament in its rules of procedure. Parliament has so prescribed in its Standing Orders,” said Baron-Royer.

“Since the member must vacate his seat, what then should follow? Must the High Court declare the seat vacant as has been suggested? The answer is no. Persons have quoted Section 40 of the Constitution as authority for the view that the High Court must declare the seat vacant. There is no such requirement.”

However, Baron-Royer also said that Section 40 of the Constitution specifically grants jurisdiction to the Court to make a determination on the question whether a seat has in fact become vacant where that issue is in dispute.

She said an MP could go to the court if it disputes whether the Standing Order was properly applied when the seat was declared vacant.

The ousted MPs had said they sent letters to the Speaker indicating that they would be absent for the three sittings. Boyd-Knights acknowledged receipt of those letters but insisted that the Standing Orders did not give her the authority to “turn a letter of information into a request for leave to miss parliament”.

Her decision to declare the seats vacant paves the way for by-elections within 90 days of the seats being declared vacant.

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