By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
JEROME Fitzgerald, former minister of Education, Science and Technology, yesterday indicated that he would not be making a private appeal of the Supreme Court ruling on parliamentary privilege as he confirmed his plans to leave frontline politics.
Mr Fitzgerald told The Tribune that his 15 years of public service were both an honour and a privilege, recalling his tenure as deputy chairman of the former College of the Bahamas, senator, MP and Cabinet minister.
He responded to questions sent by email concerning the appeal, and his reaction to his party’s stunning loss at the polls.
To this he said: “With regard to the election loss, the FNM won and the PLP lost. The FNM must now govern and the PLP must oppose and hold them accountable. I see it in those simple terms, no more, no less.
“As for the future, I’ve served my country now for 15 years. First in 2002 as deputy chairman of the now University of the Bahamas where we started the transition from COB to UB, then 2007 as a senator and from 2012 as a member of Parliament and Cabinet minister.
“It has been an honour and privilege to serve my country at the highest levels. At 51, I look forward to the next phase of my life with great anticipation and excitement knowing that in all things I give thanks to God.”
The Tribune reported on Monday that the government had filed notice of its intent to drop its appeal of the landmark Supreme Court ruling on parliamentary privilege alongside that of Mr Fitzgerald. The matter stemmed from Mr Fitzgerald’s tabling in parliament of the private emails of the environmental action group Save The Bays.
Yesterday, Mr Fitzgerald said: “The ruling itself was actually against me in my capacity as a minister of the government and not in my personal capacity.
“Therefore the ruling was actually against the government of the Bahamas. I suspect that this may be the reason why the Attorney General’s Office did not see the need to notify me personally of its decision to discontinue.”
Yesterday, Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Tribune that he made the decision to drop the case after discussions with counsel, and a full consideration of the costs associated with a full hearing. He noted that the former administration had made plans to import a cadre of international lawyers to argue the case. Mr Bethel insisted that Justice Charles’ ruling did not threaten the integrity of parliament, as dissenting parliamentarians argued last year.
“My view is that privileges are lost when they are abused,” Mr Bethel said.
“At the end of the day a legal judgment was made on my part, and in discussions with counsel, a legal judgment was made by me that it was not in the public interest for this matter to be appealed. And on that basis it is my view that a judge’s ruling was defensible and ought not to be challenged.”
He continued: “And because privileges if abused, cease to be privileges.”
“Had the matter continued to a full hearing much, much, more than ($150,000) that would have been incurred in legal fees.
“It’s not a matter that is of concern, we have a separation of powers in the Bahamas, we have a constitution that ensures and assures a separation of powers of all entities. It (the ruling) doesn’t threaten the integrity of Parliament, the position, it doesn’t in anyway impinge upon the integrity and authority in parliament to govern.”
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.”
Yesterday, Mr Bethel acknowledged that the lawsuit filed by the Coalition to Protect Clifton Bay (Save The Bays) was made against the government.
However, he would not confirm whether the Public Treasury would be paying the $150,000 fine imposed by the Supreme Court.
“The way the case was structured,” Mr Bethel said, “as a case against the government on a constitutional basis, so there will have to be some discussions about the issue. So at the end of the day legal costs ordered by the court are legal costs, so we will have to see who will be paying what and how much.”