Justice for John
Arthur: Priority should be helping man in dispute with Michael Carrington
Former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has suggested that this country’s leader and the disciplinary committee of the Barbados Bar Association need to step in to deal with the legal dispute involving Speaker of the House Michael Carrington.
Arthur said while Carrington, an attorney-at-law, has not been convicted of any crime, it would be in Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s best interest to get involved since the matter could hurt the ruling Democratic Labour Party.
A High Court recently found that Carrington failed to hand over to John Griffiths, an additional $210,000 remaining from the sale of his late aunt’s property at Dayrells Road, Christ Church. The judge had ordered Carrington to give an account of the funds and pay what was due, with interest.
Arthur insisted that the “victim” in the situation was 78-year-old Griffiths and “our first effort should be to say everything that needs to be done should be done to make sure that Mr Griffiths gets his money and that all other Barbadians in a similar position are not savaged, whether by politicians or anyone else”.
“I believe that both sides of the House and . . . the Bar Association that has a disciplinary committee should be saying ‘look, let us first of all deal with the victim, make sure that this person gets back [his] money and then we can play the politics’,” he told reporters.
“It seems to me that nobody is paying attention to the fact that there is a victim in this matter. I have to ask ‘are any arrangements being made for the victim in this matter to have justice done on his behalf?”.
Arthur questioned the effectiveness of the decision by parliamentarians from the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) that he once led, to walk out of any sittings that the Speaker presided over.
“You can’t get justice done on the victim’s behalf by myself as a politician and others by just walking out of the House,” he argued.
“I’m here today because I would like to participate in the debate in Parliament. That debate is an important debate . . . It’s historic . . . I don’t feel that you can punish the Speaker by absenting yourself from doing the people’s business as a form of punishment,” Arthur added, referring to the debate on amendments to the Offences Against the Person Act that would remove the mandatory nature of the death penalty for murder.
Although he recused himself from the chair on the first sitting of Parliament for the year – after the Opposition’s objections – Carrington has refused to budge from his seat since then.
His decision was supported by Prime Minister Stuart and other Government MPs.
Arthur today sent a clear signal about his stance on the issue when he took his seat in Parliament, while the Opposition benches were conspicuously empty.
The veteran parliamentarian described the matter as a difficult and sensitive one, particularly because it was being played out in the law courts as well as the “court of public opinion”.
And while he noted that the rules and laws of Parliament now applied since the issue was brought before the House, Arthur did not agree that it should have been referred to the Committee of Privileges.
The decision to refer the matter was made by St John MP Mara Thompson who deputized for Carrington when he vacated his chair after his matter was brought to the House’s attention.
Arthur said he expects the committee to rule that the matter was not properly before it since it did not represent a breach of the privileges and powers of Parliament.
“I am surprised that it went to the Committee of Privileges because . . . 59 (3) of the Standing Orders says that that committee is for something that amounts to the breach of the powers and the privileges of the House. This matter concerns the Speaker not so much as a member of this House but in his professional capacity. So does it amount to a breach of the privileges and powers of the House?” Arthur questioned.
“There’s a Parliament Privileges and Immunity Act. Section 6, I think, speaks of the conduct of members and whether the conduct of members constitutes contempt for Parliament . . . Members’ conduct only represents a breach of Parliament where the member is convicted of an offence. The Speaker, in this matter, had a judgment issued against him that requires him to account for funds but he has not been convicted of a criminal offence.”
Arthur further pointed out that “Section 5 of the Parliament Privileges and Immunities Act gives immunity to members of Parliament from being arrested or imprisoned for any civil process, save and except where you have committed an offence involving the contraction of debt”.
“The Speaker has not been convicted of any matter that would cause him to be punished under that section of the act [either],” Arthur added.
The St Peter MP, who resigned from the Mia Mottley-led BLP last year, was adamant that he would not support the actions of any parliamentarian that would be deemed professional misconduct.
He brushed aside suggestions in some quarters that Carrington appeared to be acting above the law.
Arthur also warned that it would be dangerous for the House to treat the matter as a moral one.
Asked if the issue of morality could be separated from the role of the Speaker of the House, he said “yes”, insisting that the controversy involved Carrington in his professional capacity as a lawyer.