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House Standing Orders Unconstitutional
Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2008

By Stephen Kangal
January 09, 2008

The unfortunate decision of the Speaker, the Honourable Barendra Sinanan to debar unconstitutionally members of the COP wearing their attention-grabbing, artistic logo from attending the second sitting of the House as responsible members of the public gallery to listen to the debate on crime is clearly symptomatic of electoral justice gone mad.

This discriminatory and disenfranchising system for determining electoral representation in our Parliament in a plural society denied in 2007,148,000 citizens from being officially heard and represented in parliament. Parliament in the eyes of these 148,000 citizens no longer has any legitimacy. But it has deteriorated further.

Now it disqualifies them from even gaining access to the public gallery to listen to a debate on a subject on which the same COP put forward at the elections and subsequently presented to Government a most impressive one hundred point crime reduction and prevention plan.

In the face of the persistence of this undemocratic and unconstitutional act, elected members of the House are entitled to and do wear their balisier and rising sun political symbols proudly displayed on their chests for the cameras even if they are Prime Ministers/Ministers and must represent all ethno- cultural-political constituencies. What is the essential difference to justify this parliamentary double standard?

In the mother of all British Commonwealth Parliaments at the Palace of Westminster MP's are forbidden from wearing party symbols and cannot even have a drink of water in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

The Constitution of T&T recognises in Part I (4)(e) and provides for as my fundamental freedom and human right "... the right to join political parties and to express political views;" The Standing Order that disqualifies me from attending sessions of the supreme law creating institution of my country while discreetly wearing the symbol of my political party that is incidentally also a symbolic and silent but powerful means of expression of my political views is ultra vires the constitution and therefore "... void to the extent of its inconsistency" with the provisions of the 1976 Republican Constitution.

The House through The Speaker is empowered to regulate the conduct of its own internal affairs without being subject to judicial intervention. However, such liberty does not extend to exercising those acts, even if based on a Standing Orders, that are inconsistent with and clearly infringe the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in Part I of the 1976 Constitution from which no derogation is permitted except by Acts of Parliament that have been passed by the expressed authority of the requisite constitutional majority required for amending sections of the Constitution.

There were also non-legal, mitigating circumstances on this occasion on which the Speaker could have exercised his discretionary judgement. COP that is a legitimate, powerful third force in the politics had been disenfranchised from parliamentary representation. COP had recently submitted a Plan to Government on crime that was in fact the main business of the House on Monday. Security plans are always in place to prevent interruptions from the gallery. MP's were wearing their party symbols. The COP members in question were all decent, law-abiding immaculately dressed citizens with a most seductive and symbolic party symbol. The Speaker was facing a potential no-confidence motion based on politically motivated alleged bias.

When one looks back at the non-implementation of the Crossing of the Floor Act owing to the non-passing of the relevant standing order it appears to me that the Standing Orders of the House take precedence over and can do violence to those fundamental freedoms enshrined in the supreme law of the Constitution with impunity.

Something or every thing is amiss in the state of Trinidad and Tobago! Parliament is ripe for shaking.

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