AG demands payment of court costs in dismissed parliamentarians’ suspension case


The eight Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs), who were suspended over the December 2021 uproar in the National Assembly, have failed to settle the costs awarded by the court after their case to overturn their suspension was dismissed.

Consequently, Attorney General and the Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall, SC, has written their lawyer, demanding the payment of overdue costs.

Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones, Ganesh Mahipaul, Sherod Duncan, Natasha Singh-Lewis, Annette Ferguson, Vinceroy Jordan, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley, and Maureen Philadelphia were, in July of last year, officially suspended for breaching the National Assembly’s Standing Orders by participating in the infamous grabbing of the Speaker’s Mace — the most significant symbol in the National Assembly – and for disrupting the sitting of the National Assembly on December 29, 2021, during their protest against readings of the Natural Resource Fund (NRF) Bill.

They were subsequently suspended for several sittings after the Parliamentary Committee of Privileges, following investigations, recommended their suspension for violating Standing Orders and established customs and practices regarding acceptable behaviour of parliamentarians.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall SC and Attorney Roysdale Forde SC

In legal proceedings filed against AG Nandlall, House Speaker Manzoor Nadir, and Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs (the respondents), the MPs were seeking, among other things, to overturn their suspension.

However, in a January 16 decision, the High Court dismissed their case and the trial Judge, Justice Damone Younge, ordered the defendants to pay costs to the tune of $350,000 to each of the three defendants on or before February 6, 2023.

It has now been more than a month since that payment was supposed to be paid, as per the court order, but this is yet to be done.

“To date, there has been no payment of the… costs in breach of the… Order to Court,” AG Nandlall wrote in a letter to Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde, who had represented the eight MPs in this matter.

The Attorney General further indicated, “In the circumstance, I hereby demand payment of costs in the sum of three hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($350,000) awarded in the matter at the caption, be paid within seven (7) days from the date hereof [March 10, 2023]. You are also hereby informed that failure to comply would result in enforcement of the aforesaid Order of Court without further notice.”

In their court proceeding, the eight Opposition parliamentarians were seeking a declaration that the report of the Committee of Privileges is unconstitutional, null, void, and of no legal effect; and that their suspension is a breach of the principles of natural justice, because their rights, as guaranteed under Article 144 (8) of the Constitution, have been infringed.

They argued that they are “unaware of any act of ours on the day in question falling in the category of gross disorderly conduct, contempt, and breaches of privileges, and that to the best of our recollection, on the day in question, our posture was no different from all other Members of Parliament who were present…”

Among other things, they also submitted that their suspension is part of an unconstitutional scheme and/or device by the Government to utilise its majority in the National Assembly to silence and reduce the numbers of sitting parliamentary Opposition Members of Parliament.
However, Justice Damone Younge, in her ruling, sided with the respondents’ arguments that the internal affairs and procedures of the National Assembly, including the discipline of its members, are not justiciable by any court. She, therefore, held that the High Court had no jurisdiction to hear the MPs’ case.

“The manner of the application of Standing Orders and the functions and deliberations of the Privileges Committee are purely matters of internal procedure over which the National Assembly has total control. The framers of our Constitution, in their infinite wisdom, reserved the remit of the National Assembly’s procedures to the National Assembly itself as set out in Article 165 (1) of the Constitution,” the Judge noted.

Having regard to her findings, she found that the MPs’ case is not exceptional and does not warrant the exercise of the court’s constitutional jurisdiction. “As such, this court refrains from inquiring into the internal proceedings of the National Assembly and from exercising its jurisdiction to hear the MPs’ case on its merits.”

“The court is ever mindful of trespassing into the realm of the legislature and usurping or appearing to usurp the authority of this arm of the State to regulate its own procedures as specifically provided for in the Constitution, whilst still maintaining its role as the guardian of the Constitution,” said Justice Younge.

The eight MPs have already served their respective suspensions during which they were not paid any salaries and allowances, and had also lost out on entitled benefits enjoyed by Members of the House.