The Attorney General will not legally challenge the two Bodden Town United Democratic Party members who won seats in this month’s general election, leaving it in the hands of voters or other candidates to take any legal action against the duo.
Mark Scotland and Dwayne Seymour failed to register their interests in government contracts in time for the election deadline, in contravention of the Constitution. They filed the information regarding the contracts four days after the deadline.
Attorney General Sam Bulgin, in a statement released on Thursday afternoon, said: ‘After considering not only the allegations but the law and the public interest, I take the view that although the Constitution provides that an application to the Grand Court to have an elected Member disqualified from sitting may be made by the Attorney General, among other described parties, that in the current circumstances this is not an action that I should take.’
Mr. Bulgin said he had ‘carefully considered the legal issued involved, as well as the public interest implications, in the context of what I know to be my constitutional responsibility’.
He said that an Attorney General taking legal action in such a situation would be ‘unusual’ in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
On Tuesday, Governor Stuart Jack stated that he had no constitutional power to determine if a candidate is qualified to stand for election or take a seat in the Legislative Assembly. He swore both men into parliament on Wednesday.
Mr. Bulgin said that the constitution placed no greater onus on the Attorney General to challenge the eligibility of candidates than it does on any other applicants such as a voter or another candidate.
He said: ‘As an applicant, the Attorney General would be placed in the position of pressing the court to declare a Member of the Legislative Assembly disqualified from sitting, a role that seems to run contrary to the duty of the Attorney to maintain absolute neutrality in political matters.’
He said if another individual decided to make an application to challenge the eligibility of Mr. Scotland or Mr. Seymour, he would consider whether the Attorney General should appear in the case as amicus curiae, and ‘thereby be in a position to assist the Court from a neutral, non-partisan position’.
Amicus curiae literally means ‘friend of the court’ and refers to a person or organisation that is not party to a litigation but is permitted to advise the court in respect of matters of law that directly affect the case.
Osborne Bodden, a People’s Progressive Movement candidate who lost his seat in Bodden Town, said he was disappointed in both Mr. Bulgin and the Governor for failing to challenge the Bodden Town UDP candidates and for ‘failing to uphold the constitution’.
‘Members of the public have not sworn to uphold the constitution. The Attorney General has the moral obligation and he has sworn to uphold the constitution.’
He said that no PPM candidate would launch a legal challenge against Mr. Seymour or Mr. Scotland, but said he was sure members of the public in Bodden Town would do so.
‘We did not want to make this a PPM/UDP issue. That’s why we have stayed away from launching a challenge. We will support any challenge, but it will not come for one of the candidates.
‘There are a lot of people who are upset and concerned about this and we can identify people in the community who will be willing to challenge this,’ Mr. Osborne said.
PPM legislators addressed the constitutional irregularity surrounding the Bodden Town UDP lawmakers at the first meeting of the new Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.
Arden McLean of the PPM stated: ‘If we allow breaches in our constitution to go unchallenged, we will forever be a banana republic. The governor has come out and said he has no responsibility… It appears like the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the Attorney General.’
He added: ‘The people of this country have just approved a new constitution. My question is for what, if we cannot uphold the one that we have.’
The PPM’s Alden McLaughlin in his inaugural speech of the new term said his party would not challenge the constitutionality of the two Bodden Town members’ swearing in as MLAs.
‘We did not feel that as the losers in the democratic process in the issue of those two seats, where there is a clear indication by the electorate that they wanted those two people elected, it is not the right thing for us to challenge those two seats,’ he said.
Mr McLaughlin added: ‘We do not feel that it can be right or appropriate for those who are guardians of the constitution and rule of law to simply avoid their duty to uphold the rule of law and the constitution, they have no higher duty.’