Sarah Browne, Vikash Ramkissoon were unlawfully appointed as MPs – CJ rules
By Kurt Campbell
Chief Justice (ag), Roxane George, SC, on Tuesday, ruled that Members of Parliament (MPs) cannot be elected and non-elected members at the same time; a ruling that has in effect rendered as unlawful, the appointment of Sarah Browne and Vikash Ramkissoon as Parliamentary Secretaries by President Irfaan Ali.
This means that the appointment of the two MPs will now have to be rescinded paving the way for their removal from the National Assembly where they sit as non-voting members following their appointment as Parliamentary Secretaries.
They are, in fact, elected members, having been on the List of Candidates for the governing People’s Progressive Party at the 2020 elections.
“…can the third and fourth respondents [Sarah Browne and Vikash Ramkissoon] be members of the National Assembly despite being elected non extracted members? I think not,” the Chief Justice said as she handed down her ruling virtually on Tuesday in the High Court.
Justice George said it cannot be accepted that as elected MPs, they have been appointed to the National Assembly as if they were not and without voting rights.
“The issue is not whether they can be in the National Assembly… it is not about holding seats… membership of the National Assembly is the issue,” she said.
Brown is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Amerindian Affairs Ministry, while Ramkissoon is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Agriculture Ministry.
The law makes provision for the President to appoint four technocrats Members of Parliament and two Parliamentary Secretaries who will not have the same voting rights as elected members who are extracted from a list of candidates.
The legal challenge was mounted by Opposition Chief Whip, Christopher Jones – a case that Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC, defended.
The CJ, in her ruling, accused Nandlall of approbating and reprobating in his arguments and seeking to abandon a previous judgment of the High Court, handed down by the late Justice Ian Chang that then ministers, Winston Felix and Keith Scott, cannot hold seats in the National Assembly as technocratic ministers; a ruling that was upheld and confirmed by the Appellate Court
The Chief Justice said that if the State’s argument were to be allowed, “as absurd as it sounds,” it permits the President to appoint the entire list of over 100 elected persons as MPs in a non-voting capacity. This will be done although there is a limit of how many elected members can take up seats in the House, which is 65.
In granting the relief sought by Jones and his attorney, Opposition Parliamentarian Roysdale Forde, SC, the Speaker of the National Assembly would now have to steps to prevent Browne and Ramkissoon from sitting in or participating in the business of the National Assembly.
Nandlall has already indicated his intention to appeal the ruling.
The Attorney-General Chambers, on Tuesday, said physical copies of the Notice of Appeal will be served on the relevant parties by Wednesday.
The entire decision is being appealed on the grounds that the CJ misinterpreted and misconstrued the law in arriving at her decision. The Attorney-General said the ruling is erroneous.
Nandlall had argued that although the two MPs names appeared on the list, they were appointed and not extracted. His reasoning gave rise to the Chief Justice questioning whether an MP can be an elected and non-elected member at the same time, something he said is certainly possible.
“This is a simple case that has been made complicated by legal arguments… Sarah Brown and Vickash Ramkisson are persons who were on a list of candidates for the PPP at the last elections. They were, however, not extracted from that list to take up any of the 33 seats that the PPP obtained at those elections,” he had said in his arguments.
To support his point, Nandlall pointed to Article 113 of the Constitution which governs the appointment of Parliamentary Secretaries, contending that although being elected members, Brown and Ramkissoon are not MPs on those grounds but rather became MPs through appointment after being found qualified in that regard.
“You can be an elected member and still be a Parliamentary Secretary. An elected member, who was not extracted, can still be appointed Parliamentary Secretary… because not being extracted will mean you will not be a voting member,” he argued.