House Speaker Brigid Annisette-George has agreed to suspend the hearing of the Privileges Committee matter against Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Moonilal pending the outcome of his legal challenge.
Through her attorney Deborah Peake SC, the House Speaker gave the undertaking that the Committee will not hold any meetings or hearings regarding the allegations against Moonilal pending the outcome of the substantive matter.
Moonilal is challenging the legality of the committee constituted to hear the two allegations against him.
The matter came up for hearing before Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams in the San Fernando Civil Court on Tuesday hours before the scheduled meeting at the Parliament building.
Moonilal who has named Attorney General as the defendant filed for the injunctive relief on Monday.
Moonilal is facing two allegations before the Privileges Committee.
The first one involves an alleged statement on October 10, 2018, by Moonilal during cross talk, “Da is why snake have some lead for you,” in which Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney and Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds is the complainant.
The second has to do with allegations made by Moonilal on October 9, 2018, about a possible link between Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, a bank account and the AV Drilling fake oil scandal.
Rowley has denied the allegations.
Ramdeen said the Privileges Committee, in which Hinds is a member, wants to hear the two allegations against Moonilal at the same time. Hinds has recused himself from sitting on the Committee during the hearing into the allegation involving himself.
Moonilal is being represented by attorneys Anand Ramlogan SC, Gerald Ramdeen and Alvin Pariagsingh while the AG is being represented by attorney Michael Quamina.
Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Moonilal said the Speaker was prepared to proceed "full speed ahead" with proceedings against him in spite of his concerns.
“I think the Speaker back, back on me. To use the Carnival dialect. I think she put in reverse gear and back, back because this morning the Speaker gave an undertaking to the court that there would be there would be no action taken on these matters involving me and no meeting of the Privileges Committee to discuss those allegations against me until the matter is heard and determined by the court.
So that, in a sense, the court did not have to grant any injunctive relief because the Speaker back, back on me on receiving the legal submission of Mr Ramlogan and Mr Ramdeen.
So that it appears that the Privileges Committee is now in abeyance since the very composition of the Committee is now under consideration by the court.”
“So the practical effect of that is that Mr Hinds is going to sit in the Committee as a witness, give evidence against Dr Moonilal and right after he do that he going to jump out of the witness box and sit in the seat of the judge and then judge Dr Moonilal.'
Now we consider that on common sense principles to be against the rule of law. It does not afford Mr Moonilal a fair hearing,” said Ramdeen. Moonilal is seeking declarations that the hearing of these matters by the committee as presently constituted is illegal null, void and unconstitutional.
“We are prepared to sit before the Privileges Committee properly constituted.
As it is presently constituted it is in breach of the constitution and standing orders,” said Ramdeen.
Moonilal who was accompanied by several of his constituents, is also seeking to have the Attorney General pay compensation and his legal costs.
The judge gave a time line for the attorneys to file their affidavits and other documents.
The matter will next be heard on April 2, at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain.
More on Moonilal’s case
In his documents filed in court, Moonilal wants the court to declare that both the Speaker and Hinds are automatically disqualified to sit on the committee.
Moonilal is arguing that it is “fundamentally unfair and constitutionally improper” for Hinds to sit in judgement of one of the allegations while the committee is hearing another complaint which alleges that he threatened Hinds' life or made serious threats of harm to him.
Moonilal further contends that the Speaker, in delivering her ruling on whether a prima facie case was made out, “impermissibly crossed the line” by stating, ‘there is absolutely no place for violent or threatening language in this house.’
Moonilal, in the claim form, said the Speaker prejudged the matter and prejudiced the proceedings of the Privileges of Committee.”
In his affidavit, Moonilal is also challenging the composition of the committee and referred to Standing Order 92 which states that the committee shall comprise of six members, including the chairman.
Moonilal submitted that the committee hearing the two allegations against him comprise of seven and eight members respectively.
Moonilal, in the court documents, expressed fear that he was not being afforded a fair trial and it is in breach of his fundamental rights.
Moonilal said his constituents are concerned that the government is seeking to silence and get him out of the Parliament.
Reporter: Sascha Wilson