House Speaker Brdigid Annisette-George and Finance Minister Colm Imbert have agreed to serve as defendants in former United National Congress (UNC) senator Wayne Sturge’s lawsuit over delays in calling a meeting of Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Energy Affairs.
Lawyers representing Annisette-George and the Diego Martin North/East MP made the applications for them to serve as defendants as the case came up for hearing before Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh at the Hall of Justice, in Port-of-Spain, yesterday.
During the hearing, Imbert’s lawyer Martin Daly, SC, suggested that the case should be split with Boodoosingh first deciding whether he had jurisdiction to hear it before resolving the legal issues raised within.
Daly explained that the case dealt with the constitutional principle of the separation of powers and would help determine the ability of persons to make legal challenges against Parliamentary processes in the future.
While Sturge’s lawyer Gerald Ramdeen agreed with Daly’s suggestion, Senior Counsel Deborah Peake, who is representing Parliament, said all the issues in the case should be heard and determined together.
In his submissions, Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, SC, who is leading the legal team for the Office of the Attorney General, said he did not have a preference on how the case should proceed. However, he noted that his client will not present evidence in the case but will make legal submissions.
“We have to be careful that the court does not set the agenda of Parliament and Parliament does not set cases,” Hosein said.
Boodoosingh upheld Daly’s suggestion as he stated that it would save on time and legal costs as if he eventually rules that he does not have jurisdiction to hear the case, he will not have to consider the substantive legal dispute.
Boodoosingh gave the parties deadline for filing evidence and submissions on the preliminary legal issue and reserved March 5, next year, to hear oral submissions.
In the substantive lawsuit, filed late last month, Sturge is alleging that Imbert’s handling of the situation breached the separation of powers, which precludes the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary from interfering in each other’s work.
He also suggested that Imbert’s decision was based on a desire to insulate his Government’s handling of Petrotrin from criticism.
Sturge is seeking declarations that Imbert, as chairman of the JSC, acted unlawfully, illegally and unconstitutionally.
Sturge initially sought an injunction to temporarily block the sale of Petrotrin’s Pointe-a-Pierre refinery as he claimed that the deal would have been scrutinised by MPs at the JSC meeting.
However, the injunction application was withdrawn on the date of hearing, as Imbert announced the date of the first meeting, which was held the following week.
Reporter: Derek Achong