|Privy Council ruling challenges parliamentary privilege in the region|
|Published on Friday, July 20, 2007||Email To Friend Print Version|
By Stephen Cummings
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad: A landmark ruling by the London-based Privy Council on Monday on the use of parliamentary privilege could effectively pave the way for legal action to be taken on the basis of statements made by members of parliament in the region who make such statements under the cloak of parliamentary privilege.
The case involves a decision by the Privy Council following a constitutional motion brought against the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines and in the name of Prime Minister Ralph Gonzales, who is said to have made incriminating statements concerning a suspicious land deal implicating the island’s former Police Commissioner, Rudolf Toussaint.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Senior Council and former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj represented Toussaint in the matter at the Privy Council.
Maharaj is quoted as saying the ruling will force the legal fraternity in all of the Commonwealth to take a second look at the business of what persons can and cannot say under parliamentary privilege.
"The Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines gave the power of the courts to look at what is said in the Parliament. The Privy Council felt that it would be a denial of the rights of Mr Toussaint for the Speaker to go the court to prevent the court from looking at very relevant evidence," said Maharaj during a press conference at his San Fernando office immediately following the ruling.
He added that the Privy Council ruled that the country’s Privileges Act must be construed with such modifications as are necessary to bring them into conformity with the Constitution.
Currently in Trinidad and Tobago and other parts of the Caribbean, members of parliament and witnesses called before parliament cannot be sued or prosecuted for statements made in the House.
Members of parliament enjoy those rights and immunities, collectively, and individually.
But, following the new ruling, statements made in parliament may now be used as evidence in court, although not as against the member making such statements. This means the courts now have a basis on which to take into account such statements in hearing relevant cases.