By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government has filed notice of its intent to drop its appeal of the landmark Supreme Court ruling on parliamentary privilege alongside former Marathon MP and Cabinet minister Jerome Fitzgerald, according to attorney Fred Smith.
Mr Smith, QC, told The Tribune yesterday that a notice of discontinuance had already been filed, and a formal position was expected at a status hearing scheduled for June 26.
The move signals a reversal from the former
administration’s position, which previously argued that Mr Fitzgerald’s statements in Parliament were protected from legal liability by way of constitutional provision, parliamentary privilege, and also legislatively under the Powers and Privileges Act.
It is also unclear whether costs ordered by the court will be paid by the Public Treasury or by Mr Fitzgerald privately.
Justice Charles ruled that Mr Fitzgerald could not be protected by parliamentary privilege, and ordered him to pay $150,000 in damages for the breach – a decision the former Marathon MP contended was made in error because he was “at all times acting in the public interest.”
“Save The Bays and Mr (Louis) Bacon sued the executive branch of government, the state, so this is obviously going to be an issue for Fitzgerald as he has personally appealed the matter,” said Mr Smith.
“Our case was against the state of the Bahamas for allowing its ministers to illegally or unconstitutionally access our emails, so the government has in fact filed a notice of discontinuance of that appeal. They will have to (formally take) the position in court on the 26th of June.
“There will be issues of whether or not Fitzgerald is going to personally continue his appeal and whether he is going to pay the $150,000 personally. They (the government) can’t take contradictory positions as far as we’re concerned, Mr Fitzgerald was acting as a member of the executive and that’s our whole case so it’s the state that owes it.”
Attempts to reach Mr Fitzgerald and Attorney General Carl Bethel were unsuccessful up to press time.
At a hearing last month, Crown counsel Loren Klein asked Court of Appeal Justices Dame Anita Allen, Jon Isaacs and Stella Crane-Scott for a 30-day adjournment to allow the incoming attorney general to be briefed on the conduct of the proceedings thus far and for instructions to be taken.
Wayne Munroe, QC, who was also present for the hearing, said his presence there was concerning the interests of the speaker of the House of Assembly in which the issue of parliamentary privilege arose.
Yesterday, Mr Munroe said: “Curiously with that one, if they discontinue that appeal it would be curiously in the interest of the opposition. We would have a judgment that we could get court orders for Cabinet ministers for what they say in the House.”
In August last year, then Free National Movement Deputy Leader K Peter Turnquest expressed support for the court ruling that Mr Fitzgerald could not be protected by parliamentary privilege when he tabled the personal emails of members of Save the Bays.
Mr Turnquest, now deputy prime minister, noted last year that while the court may not have jurisdiction in the matter, he believes that Parliament must do a better job at policing itself.