St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The Senators (Increase of Number) Act has been struck down by the Court as unconstitutional.
Justice John Benjamin Q.C., ruled Thursday that the appointment of Jason Hamilton as the Attorney General and as a fourth Senator in the National Assembly was null and void and of no effect, and his subsequent participation in the vote on the Bill was deemed unlawful. Justice Benjamin agreed with the claimants that the Bill would not have passed 8-7, had Mr. Hamilton not voted in favour of it.
“The Senators (Increase of Number) Act 2013 is unconstitutional and/or invalid as being in contravention of sections 26 and 41 of the Constitution,” the Judge ruled.
The claimants’ lawyers had argued that Mr. Hamilton was not eligible to have been appointed as Attorney General because according to the Constitution appointments to the office of Minister, other than the office of Prime Minister, shall be made by the Governor-General…from among the Members of the National Assembly.
Mr. Hamilton was not a Member of the National Assembly at the time of his appointment, and the Court ruled Thursday that his appointment as Attorney General was “contrary to section 52 (4) of the Constitution and is invalid, null and void and of no effect.”
The claimants had also challenged the procedure used to appoint Mr. Hamilton a Senator, arguing that it breached the Constitution which provides for three senators and an additional senator if one of the three is the Attorney General.
The Court agreed.
“The appointment of a 4th Senator by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister or whosoever is in contravention of the provisions, of section 26 (1) and (2) of the Constitution and as such, the said appointment is null, void and of no effect.”
No costs were awarded in the matter.
“This matter is of great interest and importance to the public and matters of this nature should not be burdened with costs, unless the matter was clearly frivolous and the court did not find this to be the case,” the ruling stated.
Before reading out his judgment, Justice Benjamin, recently elevated to Queen’s Counsel, thanked the lawyers and court staff for their cooperation in getting the matter dealt with swiftly.
“All constitutional maters are serious matters…and not to be taken lightly,” the Justice said.
There was initially some confusion over the ruling in regards to the Senators (Increase in Numbers) Act. Stating that the Court had come to the firm view that the reliefs sought by the Claimants for the three Declarations ought to be granted, it went on to state the favourable ruling for the matter of the appointment as Attorney General and the appointment as a Senator, but instead of making reference to the third declaration pertaining to the Senators Act, it repeated the declaration about the appointment of Attorney General.
The Court later issued the corrected page.
The case was brought by Opposition MP Shawn Richards the Leader of the People’s Action Movement and former Deputy Prime Minister Sam Condor, now a government backbencher. Mr. Condor resigned as a Member of Cabinet two days after Mr. Hamilton was sworn in as a Senator and the passage of the Senators Bill, which he voted against. He cited issues with transparency and good governance as his reasons for doing so. The following day, he and Mr. Richards jointly filed the challenge.