PUP Cayo South Representative Julius Espat very famously got kicked out of the House in August - and since then he has been treated like an amputated limb - no representatives' pay, no welcome at the House of Representatives. It is a suspension of unspecified term, and today in the Chief Justice's courtroom, his attorney Andrew Marshalleck made a constitutional claim for certain declarations and injunctions against the Speaker of The House and the Clerk of The National Assembly - basically asking the court to say that the suspension was wrongly made and is invalid. The government's attorney who is the Solicitor General Nigel Hawke has responded by asking the court to strike out the case. Here's how Espat's attorney Andrew Marshalleck put it today:...
Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for Julius Espat "The defendants who are the speaker, the clerk and the attorney general, have offered no defence to the claim on the merits yet, but instead applied to have the matter struck out on two grounds. They say that the courts not lack jurisdiction to inquire into the internal affairs of parliament and that Mr. Espat has an alternative remedy for redressing what happened. This is to go back to the house for a resolution to terminate the suspension."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "What will the CJ determine that at his next sitting on the 6th?"
Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for Julius Espat "He will decide whether it's to be struck out. Now the curious position is that if it's not to be struck out, then what is left? Because there is no defence to fall back on. Then I expect some sort of rumble over whether or not they will be entitled to go back and now put a defence in."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "However, the solicitor general did say in court that 45-5 of the standing orders in fact make it clear that the speaker acted properly and within the ambit of the standing orders."
Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for Julius Espat "Well you only need to look at the words in 45-5 to know that that's nonsense. 45-5 says after the resolution is put, the question must be put. It means put the house for a vote."
"We are comfortable that there is jurisdiction in the court to inquire into this matter where the speaker has acted so clearly outside the scope of his authority."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "The argument was made in there that the suspension was completely invalid, because you deviated from procedure. The house never voted on it. Are these things true sir?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "And we made a counter argument to that. I will not get into the merits of it, because a decision has to be made on it."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "Do you feel it's unfair that a speaker of the house as the head of the parliament, you are being taken into court - basically your conduct as speaker is being put on trial in this court?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "I am a lawyer, a past politician and the current speaker. There is very little that I say is unfair. When you are the speaker of the house, you are a target. You have to live with that. You are brought to court, you are put on social media. That's the name of the game. You can't cry about that."
Julius Espat was not in court today and Solicitor General Hawke declined comment. But there are reports that members on both sides of the house are working in the background to bring Espat back in through a bi-partisan process. Speaker Peyrefiitte had no detailed knowledge of that, but did not appear averse to such a resolution, while Marshalleck said it's hardly an option:..
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "I am not aware of any definitive activities and naturally what I will say about part of the procedure today is that there is an alternative remedy in our view and naturally it goes with people speaking to each other to see if you could come up with a resolution to the matter. It happens in every case. I am sure that there have been discussions, but I have not been aware or made aware of the results of any discussions."
Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for Julius Espat "Well we have a problem in that he doesn't accept that he has been lawfully suspended and the speaker still insists that he has and the only way to resolve that is exactly how we are doing it. So there is no other action to take."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "Will he be in the house on December 16th? Do you foresee?"
Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for Julius Espat "I am not aware that a meeting has been set for December 16th. But I expect that if this matter is not concluded before December 16th and he presents himself there, he will be prevented from participating. But this only goes to the damages that he would be entitled to once he succeeds in this claim."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "Finally, I am told there is a house meeting on December 16th. Is it your expectation that there will be all 31 members there?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "It's always my expectation that there will always be 31 members there. But the chief justice will make a decision on December 6th, so we will know whether or not one particular member will be allowed to be there, I suspect."
Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for Julius Espat "But as things stand he is not welcome on the premises. The officials there treat him as having been suspended. We are saying that there was no valid lawful suspension and of there was no valid lawful suspension, obviously there can be no resolution to terminate what didn't happen. The injunctive release is to stop the officers of the house from acting in pursuance of the unlawful suspension. It means that if the suspension isn't lawful, then nobody should be acting to enforce it and that seeks to restrain them from doing so. Because they have been acting to enforce it."
The Chief Justice will give his decision on whether the application will be struck out on December the sixth. Reports say the next house meeting is on December 16th.
Hon. Julius Rejected By Supreme Court, Speaker Urges Conciliation, Espat Ready For War
In August it made the worst kind of history when PUP Cayo south Representative Julius Espat was forcibly ejected from the House of Representatives. And while the rough handed removal from the house floor provided those indelible images, the fact is he is still on suspension from the House. He hasn't received his pay as a representative from September, and he is not welcome on the premises of the National Assembly. So, Espat went to the Supreme Court, asking for relief. In a matter heard by the Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, he claimed that the Speaker misused his authority, and failed to follow the procedure for a suspension. Espat claimed his constitutional rights were violated by these abuses and oversights, and asked to court to remedy it - basically by telling the Speaker and the National Assembly Clerk Eddie Webster how they should have handled the matter.
Acting Solicitor General Nigel Hawke and Crown Counsel Agassi Finnegan appeared for Peyrefitte and Webster. They put in no defence and asked that the matter be struck out. They argued that the House has its own internal procedures for dealing with the suspension, and the Courts shouldn't freely meddle in Parliamentary matters.
Those arguments were presented in writing and heard in open court two weeks ago. The Chief Justice delivered his decision today - in advance of Friday's House Sitting.
He surprised the mostly PUP observers in the courtroom - when he agreed with the Solicitor General - and struck out the matter - saying that the two sides should resolve the suspension according to house rules. The CJ also ordered that Espat should pay Government's costs - but in a magnanimous gesture - the Solicitor General declined.
It's a big win for the Solicitor General's office, but he declined comment. House Speaker Mike Peyreffitte did speak with the media, and he avoided triumphalism, while urging reconciliation:...
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "The decision of the chief justice to say he doesn't have jurisdiction because it doesn't fall within the ambit of a true constitutional issue, it doesn't surprise me when you look at the law as it stands today."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "For you, is this a vindication that you acted within the regulations of the standing orders?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "Jules, well I don't need any vindication. I do my job to the best of my ability and if the chief justice had determined that I was wrong and gone to the case on the term that I was wrong then I would have respected what he would have ordered. So it's important for me to say this, there's no victory here. I take no pride or any joy in having the people of Cayo South without their representative in the house, that's not a good thing. The house has rules and I believe that members have to follow those rules."
Magali Marin-Young, Appearing for Andrew Marshalleck "Clearly the client is disappointed, has expressed the desire to proceed with an appeal, disappointed because we did not feel that this was a clear cut case where judiciary could not intervene in parliamentary affairs especially since there is serious allegation of breach of fundamental rights and the speaker not lawfully suspending the Member of Parliament for Cayo South."
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "It's a good thing for people to see. This has been played out on television, everybody saw what happened and so it's very disappointing, because I am not defending Julius Espat in this case, I am representing thousands of people and the system is the problem. I have been insisting from the day, we are fighting against a system that is holding us down and if it's holding a representative down imagine how it's holding a regular man on the ground out there now. So we will continue our fight because it is a just one."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "But is the judiciary apart of that system you speak about that's holding people down?"
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "I think the system in general and I am not specifying the judiciary. You look at your statistics, your conviction rate is at what? 7%? Because people get away by technicalities and technicalities is affecting us right now in this country. It is a fundamental problem that we have in our society and I am willing to take it all the way. And our learned attorneys are in agreement that we should appeal it all the way."
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "Why pull on the matter, if you appeal you take it way to the court of appeal and then if the court of appeal decides against one of us and then where do we go? To the Caribbean court of justice? Then when do you get a final decision? January of 2019? Is the member prepared to sit out until then? I don't think that is the smartest move for him but he has his team of highly esteemed advisors, that is up to him. I would not advise him to do that but I cannot give him any advice, I would rather we sit down and try to work it out."
We understand efforts were being made to try and work it out between senior members for both sides, namely UDP Party Whip Michael Finnegan and the PUP's most senior parliamentarian Said Musa. But those talks stalled when Espat took the matter to court. It is now left to be seen if Finnegan would be willing to reactivate that effort - since it requires the support of the government side.
But, what will happen on this Friday when a house meeting is scheduled? Will Espat tempt fate and appear while his suspension still stands? And will the Speaker order that he be kept off the house premises? That's what we asked both sides today:...
Jules Vasquez, 7News "So now what happens on Friday Mr. Espat? There's a house meeting, will you attend?"
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "I will be there, I'm seeking advice right now from our legal attorney and I'm also having a meeting with the party to see what our position will be."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "So what will happen on Friday at the house meeting sir?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "Well he's suspended so I don't anticipate that everything could be cleared up for Friday. If the leader of the house or the opposition were to come to me and say that they have spoken about this and that they have come to some agreement and they want to make a motion to bring the member in Friday, I would have no problem with that. I would've read the motion and they would vote on it because to bring him back requires a vote of the house. Like I said, I don't anticipate that that will happen Friday but if it happens for Friday, I would have no difficulty with that."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "When you go to the house on Friday, the officers of the house may be instructed to keep you from the premises. What do you foresee happening there?"
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "Well I did not foresee what would have happened the last time and I am not foreseeing what will happen this time but I will be there so we will see what will happen."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "But are you prepared to go....?"
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "I am always prepared and I will never back down so that's not even a question in my mind."
Reporter "So you're prepared for a repeat to be dragged out?"
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "Well if this is a boxing ring I am here to box."
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "The rules are clear, the member is suspended, it's very unfortunate that he said what he said but I am hoping that cooler heads will prevail and he would not go there against the orders of the house."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "Mr. Espat has expressed his determination to attend Friday's house sitting, will you take measures as the leader of the house to make sure that particular kind of chaos does not unfold again?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "I will do my best but a large part of what happens Friday is up to the member from Cayo South. I cannot control everything, he also has to control himself and his behavior."
And, of course, we'll be up front at Friday's house meeting to see what happens.
Tomorrow will be deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber's first time in the chair where the Prime Minister usually sits. That's because the PM is in New York seeking specialist's advice on a persistent case of gastro-enteritis.
But the PM won't be the only one missing tomorrow's house meeting; so will PUP Cayo South Representative Julius Espat,. Tomorrow's meeting is the first since he was suspended on August 26th.
He went to the Supreme Court claiming that Speaker Michael Peyrefitte had abridged his rights. But on Tuesday, the Chief Justice sent him right back to the Speaker saying that they have to work it out under the House Standing Orders. That's when Espat told the media that he will still go to the House, and he was quote, "ready to box" if necessary.
Well, today, at a press conference at his Cayo South office, Espat backed down from that hard line to say, that they are trying to work things out. Here's how he explained it:…
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "Since I was ejected from the house there has been communication between leaders or government and leaders on our side to see if there was a way in which this could have been settled. It has not been settled as yet but since the speaker made his commentary I think a couple days ago we pursued it even further and we are waiting to see if we can hold him to his word which is to find an amicable way or a civil way of going back into the house. The Hon. Said Musa wrote a letter to the speaker of the house and it's under the Fort George's division letter head and it says notice of a privilege motion, first one to standing orders 29 and 44:7. It says to the Hon. Speaker of the House of Representative take notice that the Rt. Hon. Member for Fort George wish to raise on a matter affecting the privilege of the House and to move the following resolution at the sitting of the House on Friday, December 9, 2016. Be it resolved that this Honourable House hereby terminate the suspension of the Hon. Member of Cayo South forthwith and that he be permitted to resume his duties in the House on behalf of the people of Cayo South at this sitting dated the 7th day of December 2016 signed Rt. Hon. Said Musa representative from Fort George. This is a formal letter that was sent, I am not aware if a response has been received by the Rt. Hon. Said Musa but we did this in good faith. With that said also the Rt. Hon. Said Musa along with other advisers from the party told me that it would be best that I don't go personally to the house because we have also received information from special branch and other aspects of the police department that they have an order to arrest not even going to the house but even the street that circulates the house. So with that said and my executive also came up with a resolution that they agreed with the proposal made and they agreed that I should remain close to the house of representative if this happens and I am permitted back in that I can just go over and go in. With that said I am not going to the house of representative as I previously stated, I still believe that I should be there, we believe that I was wrong, everybody say it on the television -- we don't need to be an attorney to be able to analyse that situation but everybody believe that somehow we have to give due process a chance."
Jules Vasquez "An argument it can be made that it is you because you want to go to court because you want the chief justice to put the speaker in his place; it is you who derailed a process between Mr. Finnegan and Mr. Musa that was underway that might have resulted in an amicable resolution within the parliament, within the house, rules within the standing order. But you mi want run da Supreme Court to put Peyrefitte inna ih place and you lose."
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "I didn't lose. Let me be clear with that Jules, what I am doing here is not to go back into the house to go into that same ruckus scenario."
Jules Vasquez "You never answer mi question, you derailed the process."
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "I didn't derail it, I'm explaining to you that we are using the avenues that are available to us and there is nothing wrong with that."
Vaughan Gill - Cayo South Executive "The speaker did suggest that he felt kind of funny that Cayo South didn't have his representative in the house and hopefully something could have been worked out by Friday. This attempt by the Rt. Hon Said Musa with Mr. Espat attempted that so I believe the Cayo South voters believe that it is not in the UDP's interest for Julius Espat to be back in the house at this time with all the issues on the table right now he was ejected we believe because of speaking out against the government. The point today we are here where there is no answer to that letter and the information from the security forces that the instructions and the strategy has been put in place to detain him and restrain him from even being around the house on Friday."
Jules Vasquez "Is it that you want them to move the earth, the moon and the sun because now you didn't have the success you wished for at the Supreme Court and you still want to go back into the house? And so now your problem becomes their emergency and Mr. Finnegan is saying well…"
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "It's not my problem Jules; it's the problem of the people of Belize. I am one of 31 but they have urgency when it's political spending and they do supplementary appropriation and its done immediately when they have urgency they want pass a law they call and read it three times in a house meeting for insignificant things. If they have urgency to do those things then they should have an urgency to have a duly elected member of the House of Representative representing their people."
Reporter "Basically when the house meeting starts tomorrow you'll be sitting in your office here awaiting a call?"
Hon. Julius Espat, PUP Cayo South Representative "Dressed up inna mi guayabera (laugh)...."
As you heard in the question and answer, the PUP's most senior member Said Musa did reach out to UDP Party Whip Michael Finnegan earlier this week after the Supreme Court decision was handed down. But Finnegan told us that he didn't foresee anything happening in time for this Friday's House Meeting. He told us he remains ready to assist.
Whatever the case, Espat says he will be at his office tomorrow in his white guayabera ready to be called back to the House.
Julius Espat Apologizes, Paves Way for Return to House
News Five has learnt that at Friday’s‘ sitting of the House of Representatives, party whip and Area Rep for Mesopotamia, Michael Finnegan, will be presenting a motion for the return of Cayo South Area Representative Julius Espat to the lower chamber. That motion will be voted upon and all things going well, Espat will be back in the House by the following sitting, likely at the end of January or early February. This deal, we are told, was brokered on January third, when Finnegan and Espat met with the incoming Speaker of the House, Laura Longsworth. Espat wrote a letter to Longsworth saying he regretted the unfortunate incident and expressed respect for the chair. So all things considered, the expectation is that Espat should be back in Parliament, though not at Friday’s sitting. The outspoken area rep was ejected by law enforcement officers from the House and suspended last August. During a speech on the adjournment he criticized Government’s actions in the matter of the Immigration Audit Reports and in the process was alleged to use unparliamentary language. Then-Speaker Michael Peyrefitte called on a member to “name” Espat, which Minister Wilfred Elrington did, and he was dragged from the chambers by Police. Espat subsequently challenged the suspension, but the Supreme Court decided that it will not meddle in the affairs of parliament or the executive because of the separation of powers. The P.U.P’s senior parliamentarian, Said Musa, was unable to convince Peyrefitte to re-instate Espat under a privilege motion at the House’s last sitting in December. But manoeuvring by Finnegan and the P.U.P.’s senior leadership, Espat has a chance to represent his constituency fully in the near future.
And the first order of business was the single matter that perhaps played a part in Laura Longsworth's ascension. Her predecessor Mike Peyrefitte had famously clashed with the PUP Representative for Cayo South Julius Espat, resulting in his forcible ejection from the House. So, today, the House heard the motion from the government side to bring Espat back - but it's clear that there were definitely mixed feelings about it:...
Hon. Laura Longsworth, Speaker of the House "It is therefore for this honorable house to consider a resolution to terminate the suspension of the honorable member at this time."
Hon. Michael Finnegan "And that I hope and pray to the lord in heaven that as long as I live I will never want to witness what happened on the 26th of August last year. I would hope that every member in this house must realize that you are the person, Madam Speaker, that is in charge of this house. You have the last decision to make whether we agree with you or we don't. Your decision is the rule of the day. Madam Speaker, I move a resolution that the Honorable Julius Espat, member for Cayo South be reinstated to his parliamentary duties and attend the next siting of the house of representatives."
Hon. Patrick Faber "I remember his word particularly, Madam Speaker, saying 'which one of you thieves are going to name me?'. Casting aspersions Madam Speaker not only in terms of disrespect to you but casting aspersions on all on this side. Madam Speaker, while we believe that it is very important for him to come back to this honorable house, particularly because he represents a portion of this country that is very important to Belize's development, the people of Cayo south. Let us not pretend that he is all soft and ready. We had seen where that member demonstrated time and time again disregard. You can say that it was either ignorance an intentional thing not to learn the standing orders and follow them. I am hoping again that with the dawn of your era there will be some change once he is allowed to come back to this honorable house via the motion that my friend the member from Mesopotamia has passed."
Hon. John Briceno "Whilst I am grateful for the honorable member from Mesopotamia for the resolution, I must register my disappointment that the honorable member from Cayo South is not allowed to come to this house meeting. The people from Cayo south has been without a representative in this honorable house since august of last year. That representative needs to be here in this honorable house representing his people. There's just no justifiable reason why he can't be allowed to come to this house today."
Rt. Hon. Said Musa "I believe that it's the first time in the history of our parliamentary democracy that not only the member, but indeed the entire press was forcibly and violently evicted from this house. That should never again happen Madam Speaker."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow "In terms of what happened, we all regret it. But when Mr. Member for Fort George, you will make it seem as though the force that was used was entirely unprovoked, forget the media. I don't know what took place with our friend from channel 7, but he certainly got up and indicated that he did not have a problem with what happened. But with respect to the member, when he was named, he refused to leave. Having been given opportunity after opportunity. After being named, he insisted on staying for a while to make a point, I could have understood that but this was a prolonged refusal that ultimately turned violent and for what reason? It was not that some fundamental interest of his party of the country was involved. This was ego and arrogance and a kind of bolshevism that resulted in this violent resistance when the forces of law and order acting in the accordance with the instruction of the speaker tried to remove him. This was after half an hour, if not more. But please as the member who moved the motion said, let us just pray to God that there is never again going to be that sort of a spectacle. but let us hope that notwithstanding that there is a genuine degree of contrition. Absent that while he must come back since we can't deprive the people of Cayo south of representation, we're going to go down the same road again. I recollect some old saying that if a cloth be washed a hundred times, how can it be rendered clean if it is washed in dirty water?"
So, while Espat did not return today, his suspension has been lifted with the motion moved to bring him back. So, he returns at the next House Sitting which will be at the end of this month or early next month.