Privy Council Rules SKN Parliament Was Dissolved Before Boundary Change Proclamation Was Made LK Hewlett Story Updated: May 10 th 2015 at 2:08 pm
The Privy Council ruled that the February 16 St. Kitts-Nevis elections was to be held on the existing boundaries because the proclamation which sought to change them was made after the National Assembly had been dissolved. The Council of five Law Lords on February 12 reversed the Court of Appeals’ Feb 5 ruling that the then Labour Party government’s boundary change proclamation was valid as the injunction obtained by the then Opposition was received too late to prevent it taking effect. “The Board has concluded that the dissolution of the National Assembly occurred before the impugned proclamation was made. Accordingly, the proclamation, if valid, did not govern the election which followed that dissolution,” the Privy Council judgment states. The Privy Council’s determination was a culmination of a flurry of court action following the actions of the former government on January 16 to change the constituency boundaries and dissolve the parliament. Former Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas admitted that he had rushed to parliament with almost no notice to Opposition MPs and passed the boundary change resolution with little debate, had it immediately signed by the Governor General along with the proclamation to dissolve the House at that time, all in an attempt to prevent the Opposition from challenging the matter in court via injunctive relief. Dr. Douglas’ Labour Party had to proceed to the elections on the existing boundaries and lost to the united Opposition 7-3 [NRP won 1 seat]. The Law Lords opined that the then Opposition’s appeal raised important constitutional questions on which they felt the Board should express at least tentative views. “Those questions are: (i) whether, if there were a deliberate attempt to exclude the review by the courts of the Constituency Boundaries Commission’s report, that attempt was unconstitutional because it was contrary to the rule of law, and (ii) whether the publication of the impugned proclamation in the Gazette after the grant of the interim injunction was unlawful and therefore of no effect.” The Council sided with the Opposition’s legal team that since the Jan 16 gazetted proclamation to change the boundaries was not published until Jan 20, the Boundary change proclamation was made after the dissolution of parliament and therefore could only take effect upon the dissolution of the next parliament which would have been installed following the Feb 16 elections. The Council said while it was not required to rule on the Opposition’s challenge of the constitutionality of a deliberate attempt to exclude the opportunity of access to the High Court for constitutional redress, it was important to state its views on the matter in light of the fact that it may be of practical importance in a future election. “In the Board’s view there is at least a strongly arguable case that a deliberate attempt by one branch of government, in the control of a governing party, to prevent individuals from obtaining access to the High Court for a constitutional adjudication under section 96 would be unconstitutional as it would deny the protection of the law contrary to section 3(a).” In light of the former government proceeding to have the boundary change proclamation gazetted in the face of an injunction which attempted to prohibit its making, the Council opined, ‘the making of the impugned proclamation by its publication on 20 January 2015 may be amenable to a quashing order under normal principles of judicial review.” Parties are to make written submissions on costs within 21 days of the delivery of judgment.