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Whims and fancies

Politics aside, it appears that we are on the verge of creating parliamentary history not only with the first Parliament to sit for the full five-year term, but also with some constitutional gymnastics vis á vis the provisions relating to a Government’s term in office.

The provisions of our Constitution form the bedrock of the law and legal systems of this island. Parliament is in fact created by Section 35 of the Constitution which states that “there shall be a Parliament of Barbados which shall consist of Her Majesty, a Senate and a House of Assembly.”

One generally hesitates to quote large tracts of legislation verbatim but given the partisan nature of all of the pronouncements to date, I think it best to provide the reader with the raw material against the backdrop of which they can critically examine such opinions and this one. Part 3 of the Constitution deals with the rubric “Summoning Prorogation and Dissolution” of Parliament and Sections 60 through 62 provide as follows:

60. (1) Each session of Parliament shall be held at such place and commence at such time as the Governor-General may appoint.

(2) The time appointed for the commencement of any session of Parliament shall be such that a period of six months does not intervene between the end of one session and the first sitting of Parliament in the next session.

61. (1) The Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may at any time by proclamation prorogue Parliament.

(2) The Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may at any time by proclamation dissolve Parliament:

Provided that if the office of Prime Minister is vacant and the Governor-General considers that there is no prospect of his being able within a reasonable time to appoint to that office a person who can command the confidence of a majority of the members of the House of Assembly, he shall dissolve Parliament.

(3) Subject to the provisions of subsection (4), Parliament, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date of its first sitting after any dissolution and shall then stand dissolved.

(4) At any time when Barbados is at war, Parliament may extend the period of five years specified in subsection (3) for not more than twelve months at a time:

Provided that the life of Parliament shall not be extended under this subsection for more than two years.

(5) If, between a dissolution of Parliament and the next ensuing general election of members to the House of Assembly, an emergency arises of such a nature that, in the opinion of the Prime Minister, it is necessary for the two Houses or either of them to be summoned before that general election can be held, the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, may summon the two Houses of the preceding Parliament, and that Parliament shall thereupon be deemed (except for the purposes of Section (62) not to have been dissolved but shall be deemed (except as aforesaid) to be dissolved on the date on which the polls are held in the next ensuing general election.

62. (1) After every dissolution of Parliament the Governor General shall issue writs for a general election of members of appointment the House of Assembly returnable within ninety days from that dissolution.

(2) As soon as may be after every general election the Governor-General shall proceed under section 36 to the appointment of Senators.

Basic research as provided by the Parliament of Barbados, and which is also available on their website, reveals that the first sitting of Parliament after the last election took place on Tuesday, February 12, 2008. In keeping with Section 61(3) Parliament will automatically be dissolved five years from that date if the Prime Minister does not exercise his prerogative to call elections before then. My understanding of Section 62(1) is that the election must take place within 90 days thereafter and the Executive consisting of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will continue to govern the country until new members of the House of Assembly are elected.

Given that Section 61 makes exceptions for Parliament to be recalled in cases of war and other unnamed emergencies which usually relate to national security, natural disasters and so on, I find it hard to see that absent some sort of devastation, Parliament can continue in the face of the very explicit Section 61(3).

In any event, the power of the Prime Minister to require the Governor General to recall Parliament does not affect the requirements as to the holding of an election.

All should bear in mind that the Constitution was crafted to protect us against the whims and fancies of those who govern.

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