OPPOSITION Leader and Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley faces possible expulsion from the House of Representatives over allegations that he this week misled the Parliament, Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal said yesterday.
Rowley was referred to Parliament’s disciplinary committee, called the Privileges Committee, on Wednesday night by Speaker Wade Mark who found that a first instance case of contempt of the House had been made out against Rowley and he referred the matter to the committee for consideration and report.
That ruling came after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar raised a matter of contempt against Rowley.
She said the documents circulated by Rowley on Monday in Parliament – purporting to be emails suggesting offences including a conspiracy to murder – were obviously fake.
“An examination of the documents reveal that they contain numerous obvious errors, inconsistencies and major discrepancies which suggest that it is a wholly sham document, created for the sole purpose of causing mischief and to maliciously lay false accusations against Members of the Government,” Persad-Bissessar charged.
She said Rowley had, “deliberately and willfully misled this House; and recklessly abused the privilege of freedom of speech in this House thereby bringing this House into public ridicule and odium.”
The issue will now fall before the Privileges Committee where Rowley faces a range of possible sanctions including suspension and expulsion.
Asked if Rowley faces expulsion from the House if found to be in contempt, Moonilal yesterday said expulsion is one of the range of options before the committee.
“Let me be clear that I cannot speak on behalf of this committee, of which I am a member, as there is a process which has to be followed and the committee is yet to be summoned by the Speaker Wade Mark,” Moonilal said. “But the matter which is before the committee is clearly serious and the matter will be adjudicated on and subject to all of the normal processes. Persons who have been found in contempt have been subject to a range of sanctions and that will be the case here, including: being asked for an apology; suspension from the session or expulsion. What ever sanction, if any is to be imposed, is to be determined by the committee.”
According to Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice, the touchstone legal text on Parliamentary procedures throughout the Commonwealth, an MP who is found to have committed a contempt against the House may be expelled.
“In the case of contempts committed against the House of Commons by Members, two penalties are available in addition to suspension from the service of the House, and expulsion, sometimes in addition to committal,” the text states, on page 111 of its 21st Edition.
An expulsion would result in the seat being declared vacant and would trigger a bye-election. However, the expelled candidate would be able to return to contest any bye-election.
A 2010 fact-sheet prepared by the UK’s House of Commons Information Office also notes, “The Commons ultimate power of discipline over one of its own Members is expulsion, thereby creating a vacancy and subsequently bye-election in that Member’s constituency.”
Former Speaker Nizam Mohammed yesterday said Rowley technically faces expulsion.
“Technically, he faces expulsion,” he said. “If it is proven that the documents are not authentic it is a very serious situation for the Leader of Opposition to face.
If it turns out to be that the documents are false, then, so much public mischief would have been created that only serious sanctions against the Member could repair the damage done to some extent.”
Mohammed said MPs had higher duties.
“Members of Parliament must operate at the highest level of responsibility and should consider the outcome of whatever they say or do in the Parliament and if the members action amounts to irresponsibility, then he must face the consequences,” he said. “If the documents are fake documents then the member is in serious trouble to the extent that he may also be suspended for a very long time.”
On expulsion, however, Mohammed said such a move would be unprecedented in the local Parliament. “The furthest we have gone is suspension,” he said.
According to the legal textbook Constitutional and Administrative Law by Hilaire Barnett, in 1948 British MP Garry Allighan was found to have lied to a committee, falsely accusing other members of taking money.
The House ordered his expulsion from Parliament.
According to the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives of New Zealand, “In the case of members of Parliament being found in contempt, punishment could be as severe as suspension or even expulsion from the House. The latter has not occurred in New Zealand to date.”
According to May’s, “The expulsion by the House of Commons of one of its members may be regarded as an example of the House’s power to regulate its own constitution, though it is, for convenience, treated here as one of the methods of punishment at the disposal of the House.”
It continues, “Members have been expelled as being in open rebellion; as having been guilty of forgery; or perjury; of frauds and breaches of trust; of misappropriation or public money; of conspiracy to defraud; or fraudulent conversion of property; of corruption in the administration of justice or in the execution of their duties as Members of the House.”
After committee meetings – which may occur once a quorum of three members is made out – the Privileges Committee would have to recommend a sanction in a report, which would have to be debated by the House of Representatives before taking effect.
The life of the current Privileges Committee will come to an end on July 10, with the end of the current Parliament session, meaning any action is limited by this time-frame.