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While Attorney General, Hon. Baba Aziz argued that Mr. Mark Vanterpool could not resign as he was not yet a Member of the House of Assembly (HoA), and could not resign from a post which he does not hold, Speaker of the House, Hon. Julian Willock’s Lawyer, Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan’s position was contrasting.
During the hearing of Vanterpool’s application for the court to declare that he had not vacated the District Four seat, Ramlogan said that when Vanterpool was elected by the people and the election writ declared him the elected member, he automatically became a member of the House.
Further he claimed that taking the oath is a process intended to allow Members to participate in the proceedings of the sittings of the House of Assembly.
To back up his position, he pointed to section 64 of the Constitution. This section falls under the heading, “Elected members” and reads, “The elected members of the House of Assembly shall be persons qualified for election in accordance with this Constitution and, subject to this Constitution, shall be elected in the manner provided by or under any law for the time being in force in the Virgin Islands.”
According to Attorney Ramlogan, the section identifies someone successful at the elections as an “elected member.”
He further pointed to Section 69(3), which reads, “The Speaker shall be elected from among the elected members of the House of Assembly or from persons qualified to be elected members of the House, other than Ministers…”
He posited that according to the Constitution, the Speaker must be elected from among elected members, highlighting that the Speaker must be in place in order for elected members to be sworn in. Therefore, he interpreted that section as saying once elected, representatives automatically become members of the House.
He also posited that the lack of a Speaker could not prevent a member from resigning from the House of Assembly—despite the Constitution saying that the letter ought to be addressed to the Speaker.
“You can’t take everything literally and out of context,” Mr. Ramlogan stated.
He questioned whether this means that one cannot resign unless a Speaker is in place. “Is that what the law intended? What does the Speaker have to do with your right to resign?” he probed.
According to Ramlogan’s sentiments, he is of the view that Mr. Vanterpool has over two decades of experience in the House of Assembly and did the only thing he could do in the absence of a Speaker—address the letter to the Clerk.
According to the Speaker’s Attorney, “If no Speaker is in place, the law will not be so absurd as to compel you to perform the impossible and address it to someone who does not exist.”
Whether or not this argument was successful will be revealed on Thursday, April 18, when Justice Ann Marie Smith returns her ruling.
Previous Article Published April 14: AG’s Submissions In Court Support Vanterpool’s Application
Attorney General, Hon. Baba Aziz yesterday, April 13, made submissions which supported Mark Vanterpool’s application to have the court declare that he did not vacate the District Four seat, and as a result should be sworn in.
Following the dismissal of the application for a judicial review of Speaker, Hon. Julian Willock's acceptance of what Vanterpool said is an invalid resignation letter, and the Speaker’s subsequent refusal to swear him in as the Fourth District Representative, the hearing continued with both sides making submissions on the application for the High Court’s declaration on the matter.
The Attorney General stuck to his position which he gave several weeks ago when the matter was taken to him for advice. Hon. Aziz—who is the Government’s Attorney— had maintained that the resignation was invalid and there was no need for a by-election.
However, Willock had challenged his advice of the matter, and insisted that it be brought before the court, later sending the AG notice that he would not require his service for the hearing.
Yesterday, the Attorney General in his submissions argued that during the time that Mr. Vanterpool submitted the resignation letter to the Clerk of the House of Assembly, the House had been dissolved, and new members had not yet been sworn in, therefore there was no functional HoA.
Further, he stated that the letter was not addressed to the Speaker, as stipulated by the Constitution.
While some may argue that there was no Speaker at the time, so the letter should have been sent to the next in the line of authority, the AG argued that no such provision is made in the Constitution. He however pointed to two contrasting sections of the Constitution, which speak to resignations in the House of Assembly.
Firstly, section 67:3 (a), which states, “An elected member of the House of Assembly shall also vacate his or her seat in the House— (a) if he or she resigns it by writing under his or her hand addressed to the Speake,” and section 69:6 (b) which looks at the resignation process for the Speaker.
That section reads, “A person shall vacate the office of Speaker or Deputy Speaker…if he or she announces the resignation of his or her office to the House of Assembly or if by writing under his or her hand addressed to the House and received by the Clerk of the House.”
He highlighted that the distinction in who the letters should be addressed to and the specification of who it should be received by is of significance.
The AG went on to speak in support of the submission made by Vanterpool’s Attorney, Senior Counsel Edward Fitzgerald, QC, which posited that Vanterpool could not resign from a seat that he did not hold.
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The AG stated that Vanterpool could not be considered a member of the House as he did not take the oath of office.
“An elected member of the House of Assembly” being referred to in the Constitution, he stated, must be interpreted within context. He said the tenure of a member begins when they are sworn in.
Hon. Aziz explained that section 67 falls under the heading, “Tenure of seats of members of House of Assembly,” and the heading shall be considered in ascertaining the meaning of an enactment.
The tenure, he said, begins when the House convenes.
For a resignation to be valid, the AG posited a new letter would have had to be tendered to the Speaker. He added that he is doubtful whether the Speaker can “unilaterally determine that vacancy exists.”
Justice Ann Marie Smith is expected to deliver her ruling on Thursday, April 18.