The Linden Commissioners missed an opportunity

Dear Editor,

In a previous letter published in your newspaper on the matter of the tragic occurrences at Linden in which three unarmed protesting members of the public lost their lives through the actions of members of the disciplined services at the scene, I had expressed my expectation that the Commissioners collectively or individually, would express their opinion on the application of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility recognized within the jurisprudence of Commonwealth countries.

It must be conceded, however, that within recent times, newly admitted members to the Commonwealth from the developing countries have declared their unwillingness to subscribe to the hitherto recognised doctrine of ministerial responsibility as it is understood and practised within the Commonwealth. In previous correspondence in your newspaper, I had given several recent examples – firstly, the sinking of a ferry boat off the coast of Tanzania resulting in many deaths by passengers, followed by the resignation of the Minister; and secondly, the Bhopal tragedy which prompted the appropriate minister of government to tender his resignation from the cabinet (which incidentally, was not accepted by the Prime Minister).  The doctrine of ministerial responsibility has been recently emphasized by Mr Karl Hudson Phillips, SC and former Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, when he called for the resignation of the Attorney General after the section 34 fiasco in that country, which also led to the removal of Minister of Justice Herbert Volney.

Nearer home and within Caricom, there have been instances of ministers of government demitting office or being relieved of their portfolios because of adherence to, or the application of, the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. There is hardly any need to mention that with regard to the application of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, Guyana having been a member of the Commonwealth for nearly fifty years with unreserved acceptance of the Commonwealth doctrine of ministerial responsibility is not in the same position as newly admitted Commonwealth countries like the Cook Islands the government of which has declared its reservation concerning the application of the doctrine to its territory.

Regrettably, in my opinion, the Commissioners being eminent Caribbean legal personalities, surprisingly avoided pronouncing on the important issue of ministerial responsibility arising out of the deaths which occurred as a result of the shooting of unarmed protestors by one or more members of the disciplined services at the scene of the tragedy.  It may be unfortunate that the Commissioners did not take the opportunity – given that the Minister appeared before them and gave evidence ‒ to seek the Minister’s views on the applicability of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility to the Linden situation.

I being conscious of the credentials of the Commissioners, felt compelled to send this letter for publication because of my previous involvement as a member of investigating missions organized under the auspices of the Commonwealth Secretariat in Commonwealth countries where there were constitutional disruptions and with the mandate to make recommendations for the resumption of constitutional rule for the consideration of the Commonwealth heads of government.

Yours faithfully,
Brynmor T I Pollard, SC

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