The rules or guidelines for statutory interpretation are intended to ensure that ambiguities are avoided in order to give effect to a statute or law. However, many times the statutes can be easily interpreted since the words have a plain and straightforward meaning, in other words, it says what it says.
Unfortunately, the Courts in its endeavor to give its interpretation sometimes obfuscate the simple literal meanings and create an entirely different meaning from that intended by the drafters of the constitution. It must be borne in mind that the function of the Courts is only to expound and not to legislate (G.P Singh, Principles of Statutory Interpretation, page 4). However, it would seem that the Court of Appeal did just that in its interpretation of ‘majority’ in Article 106.
Article 106(6) of our Constitution unambiguously states that, ‘The Cabinet including the President shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence’. On December 21st, 2018 all the elected members voted on the no confidence motion and 33 of the elected members voted in favor of that motion. The Constitution makes it clear that 65 members constitute the National Assembly. That is crystal clear and conclusive. Therefore, when the foregoing Article speaks about a ‘majority’ it is in respect of these 65 members. If the drafters of the Constitution had wanted this to be an ‘absolute majority’, the word ‘absolute’ would have been inserted. Instead they used the word ‘majority’ which in its simple plain literal meaning means 33 or any amount above 33…34, 35, 36, etc from the total of 65.
It is therefore submitted that the Appellate Court by its insertion of the word ‘absolute’ has now created a new piece of legislation not intended by the Drafters. They specifically provided for 65 members of the National Assembly to avoid any ambiguity or misinterpretation. Chief Justice George in her ruling on January 31st was absolutely correct when she ruled that, ‘In our 65- member National Assembly a majority of all elected members, in accordance with the principle of ‘one over all rivals combine’, is the thirty-three (33) members’.
I do hope that the PNC flag is not once again flying high above our Courts and democracy has taken a sudden flight!
RDC Councillor –Region 6