FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert will, in due course, be required to explain to the court why in his capacity as chairman of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Energy Affairs he, at one point, failed to convene a meeting of the JSC for more than 20 months and whether it was legal to do so.
In a ruling delivered yesterday by High Court judge Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh, the judge struck out an argument presented by attorneys representing the minister that the court was not the proper forum for the issue to be heard and determined.
On June 24, a further hearing will be held to determine if the matter will be heard physically at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, or if it will take place virtually in light of safety measures put in place by the Judiciary stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The action against Imbert was filed by attorney Gerald Ramdeen on behalf of former United National Congress (UNC) senator Wayne Sturge, after Imbert failed to convene a meeting of the JSC since February 2018.
The matter was first called before Justice Boodoosingh on October 24 last year.
In the claim, Sturge contended that the failure to hold the meeting over such a lengthy period of time had the intent and effect of preventing Parliament from holding the Government and the executive, in particular politically, to account when the Government and the executive are taking decisions that will have irreversible impact on the country and its citizens.
He was also previously seeking an interim injunction preventing the State from making any further decisions regarding the sale of the Petrotrin refinery until a meeting of the JSC had taken place.
But at the first hearing, Sturge withdrew that part of the claim after Senior Counsel Martin Daly, who appears for Imbert, said he was given the assurance by his client that a meeting would have been taking place on October 30.
The meeting has since been held.
Based on Daly’s submissions, Ramdeen stated the objective of the claim was achieved and, therefore, there was no need for that part of the claim to proceed.
However, he submitted he was still seeking declaratory relief from the court, in that Imbert’s failure to previously hold the meeting was unconstitutional.
This is the issue that Justice Boodoosingh now has to determine.
At the second hearing on October 25, Daly argued that the court did not have the jurisdiction to decide on how Parliament conducted its affairs. He said there was a thin line separating the functions of the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.
Given this, the attorney submitted that the court had to be cautious since if it were to preside over the matter and make the declaration being sought, it would be in breach of the principle of separation of powers.
He suggested the court first hear submissions and determine whether it had the jurisdiction to hear the matter.
Ramdeen agreed with Daly, saying such a course could save valuable judicial time.
“I agree that jurisdiction should be dealt with first. If I fail on that point, then there will be no need to go further,” Ramdeen had stated.
But Senior Counsel Deborah Peake, who appeared for the Speaker of the House, said she was of the view that both issues should be heard simultaneously.
After standing down the matter for several minutes, Justice Boodoosingh returned with his ruling, saying the best option was to deal with the issue of jurisdiction first.
He said the course usually adopted by the court would be to deal with both issues together. By doing so, it could save judicial time, and the matters could be dealt with more effectively.
On the flip side to that, the judge stated then, that if the issue of jurisdiction is heard and determined first, that too could save judicial time as well as cost, depending on the outcome.