The Opposition United National Congress welcomes the historic and landmark ruling by the High Court that the amendment to Section 5(5) of the Bail Act by virtue of the Bail (Amendment) Act 2015 is unconstitutional and illegal.
Although this law was unanimously passed by the House of Representative in 2015, before it expired the Leader of the Opposition took the time to make the public aware of the issues concerning the constitutionality of this law and five other pieces of legislation that the Attorney General was seeking to bully the Opposition into supporting.
The Leader of the Opposition was at pains to ask the government to “pause for a cause” in light of the concerns that the Opposition had raised.
These concerns were based on developments in the law which had occurred subsequent to the initial passage of the legislation including and in particular, the judgment of the High Court in the matter Ryan Mahabir –v- The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago and the learning by the Privy Council in the Galbaransingh & Furgerson –v- The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago case.
We expected that the Attorney General would have taken into consideration the views of the highest Court and our own Supreme Court before asking the Parliament to extend the life of this legislation.
Today the Court declared that while Parliament may decide that desperate times call for desperate measures, as it may have done in the case of this and earlier bail amendments, the constitutionality of the measures is ultimately for the Court.
In this regard, once the legal challenge to the legislation was brought before the Court, we advocated and pleaded with the Attorney General to await the outcome of those proceedings before rushing to renew a law of which legitimate constitutional concerns had been raised and was engaging the attention of the Court.
The Learned Judge confirmed today, that while Parliament is entitled to legislate, it is the Court which acts as the Guardian of the Constitution and thus, I am reassured that our approach in allowing the Court to decide on these important constitutional issues was the correct, sensible and responsible approach.
In response, we were criticized and condemned by the Attorney General and the Government as being obstructionists. They declared that we did not want to assist the police by renewing this law to assist in the fight against crime. Today, our concerns have been vindicated by the High Court as the amendment to the Bail Act was declared to be unconstitutional and illegal on the ground that it was not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society with respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens and that it infringed the principle of separation of powers.
The significance of this finding is such that even if we had bowed to the pressure from the Government and given our support for the law notwithstanding our legitimate concerns about the violation of the fundamental rights of our citizens, the law would have been struck down as being unconstitutional.
The decision today vindicates the position that I took and that of the Members of Parliament on the Opposition bench not to support this legislation. Had we done otherwise we would have contributed to the breach of the rights of our citizens who have been denied bail under the provisions of this legislation.
We trust that this judgment will force the Government to treat the similar concerns I have expressed about the disproportionate nature and violation of the enshrined fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens by the FATCA legislation in a serious manner.
Had we not stood our ground in this matter, the exuberance arrogance and recklessness of the Attorney General would have led to the passage of legislation that was fundamentally and constitutionally flawed. The FATCA law violates citizens’ rights to privacy and gives the Minister of Finance unnecessary overreaching powers that can compromise the confidentiality and sanctity of citizens’ personal financial information. The judgment of the Court today marks the third occasion in less than one year where I have advised the Attorney General against his actions and in proceeded only to be proven in error by the Court. We ought not to forget the Ryan Mahabir Judgment and the challenge to the constitutionality of the orders for the appointment of the Commissioner of Police.
We ask that the Government take heed to of the concerns we have raised about the FATCA law, lest also it be struck down by the Court on the ground that it is unconstitutional and illegal. The Opposition will not be intimidated and bullied by the Government into supporting bad law which compromises and sacrifices the rights of citizens on the altar of political expediency.