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Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, is going after Attorney General Faris Al Rawi, for his comments in Parliament with respect to an appeal being filed in the Property Tax case.

After judgment was handed down on May 19, and before a notice of appeal was filed, Al Rawi told Parliament that the appeal would be heard on May 22 at 9 am.

Persad-Bissessar has sent a letter to the Speaker of the House, raising the issue, and asking that Al Rawi be sent to the Committee on Privileges.

The following is the letter:

Hon. Bridgid Annisette-George, MP
Speaker of the House
Office of the Speaker
Parliament Building
Tower D
International Waterfront Centre
1A Wrightson Road
Port of Spain

Dear Madam Speaker,

Re: Leave to raise a matter in accordance with H.O.R. Standing Order 32

In accordance with Standing Order 32(2), I hereby seek your leave to raise the following matter concerning the privileges of the House.

At a Sitting of the House held on Friday May 19, 2017, during his contribution on the Bail (Access to Bail) (Amendment) Bill, 2017 the Hon. Attorney General, Faris Al Rawi, MP (Member for San Fernando West) stated inter alia,
“There was an application to the Court, this afternoon, for leave for judicial review on the property tax matter; leave was granted…..and for the record, the matter is being appealed. It is on at 9am on Monday and it is merely on the lowest rung of the ladder- Leave to Appeal.”.

Madam Speaker, for the purpose of putting this Privilege Matter into succinct context, the subject which the Hon. Attorney General spoke of in Parliament had nothing to do with the Question before the House at that time, namely, the debate on the Second Reading of the Bail (Access to Bail) (Amendment) Bill, 2017. The Hon. Attorney General diverted from the business before the House to speak about the Government’s response to the grant of a stay under a claim for judicial review filed by the Opposition’s legal team, regarding a matter that is before the Court.

While I am cognizant of the rule regarding the matters sub judice, I am compelled to state the facts, following the Attorney General’s statement, without giving rise to any real and substantial danger of prejudice to proceedings before the Court. The facts are as follows:

  1. The Hon. Attorney General’s announcement in Parliament at around 7:45 p.m. on Friday May 19, 2017 that the Government’s appeal was fixed for hearing on Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. was confirmed by Acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert that same night via a text message to a TV 6 reporter;
  2. Up to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday May 20, 2017, both the Registrar of the Supreme Court and the Head of the Court of Appeal Registry refuted this claim by the two Cabinet Ministers;
  3. An unfiled Notice of Appeal was emailed to the Registrar of the Supreme Court at 5:29 pm on Saturday May 20, 2017 with instructions to convene the Court of Appeal to grant “an appointment” in connection with this appeal on Monday at 9 am;
  4. The Honourable Justices of Appeal who comprised the quorum to hear the appeal were only contacted on or about 7:00 p.m. on the night of Saturday May 20, 2017, to inquire whether they could sit to deal with the Government’s appeal.

In support of the above facts, please find attached, a copy of each of the following:

  • The relevant unrevised Hansard;
  • TV6 tweet;
  • A certified copy of a transcript of the Court proceedings of Monday 22nd May 2017; and
  • A copy of a ruling made by then Honourable Speaker Barry Sinanan (on April 20, 2005) with respect to the sub judice rule.

Madam Speaker, in the first instance, the privilege of freedom of speech in Parliament places a corresponding duty on all Members to use such freedom responsibly. From the transaction of events, it is without a doubt clear to see that not only was the Attorney General being wholly irrelevant in his contribution at the time, but the Member abused his privilege of freedom of speech in Parliament to enter into a matter which has no current basis for debate in the House, according to the Order Paper as of Friday May 19, 2017 or even today, in order to pursue an agenda of either his, or the Government’s machinations.

The evidence shows that the second breach of privilege committed by the Hon. Attorney General is that his actions were reckless and amount in no small way to a deliberate and wilful misleading of the House.

David McGee, in his text on Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, 3rd Edition, explains that the charge of misleading the House may consist of conveying information to the House that is inaccurate in a material way and which the person in so doing knew or ought to have known at the time was inaccurate.
The undisputable sequence of events between the evening of Friday May 19, 2017 and the 24 hours that followed, show that the Hon. Attorney General not only conveyed information to the Parliament that was inaccurate, stating it “for the record” but did so knowing that what he stated was false.
Thirdly, the Hon. Attorney General’s failure to apologize for his recklessness is an offence against the dignity of the Parliament and one which has brought this Honourable House into odium and ridicule.
Madam Speaker, in light of the foregoing, I submit that the Hon. Attorney General has committed a contempt of this Honourable House and with your leave, I hereby request that this matter be referred to the Committee of Privileges for its consideration and report.

Yours faithfully,
/s/ K. Persad-Bissessar

Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP
Leader of the Opposition
(Member for Siparia)

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