I write in relation to the ruling of Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang, in the matter of the gag order imposed in the National Assembly on Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee. Based on the press reports of the ruling, I believe the decision is a sound one and Justice Chang should be commended.
The government seems to be interpreting this ruling as a victory for its position. However, this may be a hollow victory. In reality, the ruling in stating “it is no part of the court’s function to give directions to the Speaker or the National Assembly as to the future conduct of the Assembly’s affairs,” seems to turn the matter over to the Speaker of the National Assembly and, although the Speaker has indicated that he will seek legal advice, it is difficult to see how he can act contrary to the wishes of the majority in the House.
As Speaker Trotman ponders his responsibility and considers his decision, he is likely to reflect on the words of William Lenthall, Speaker of the English Parliament in the 1640s when there was a struggle between King Charles I and Parliament. Although Lenthall was the King’s appointee, he is reported to have said, when requested by the King in Parliament to identify five of the King’s opponents, “May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.”
I believe that Justice Chang’s decision points to the need for compromise on the part of all parties in the National Assembly as none of them wants to face the electorate at this time. In my view, the opposition parties were premature in their move against Mr Rohee. The report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Linden shootings, if it does not implicate Mr Rohee, may give them a chance to backtrack without losing face. As for the government, it will have to act in good faith and reciprocate any opposition comprise by making appropriate concessions. President Ramotar should be mindful that in the confrontation between Charles I and Parliament, in 1649 Charles ended up losing.
I understand that Speaker Trotman holds a post-graduate degree in Mediation. Come the next session of the House, to borrow a popular expression, ‘the ball will be in the Speaker’s court.’