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Time to settle gun issue


Albert Brandford

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JUSTICE delayed is justice denied.
The phrase, according to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, has become a rallying cry for legal reformers who view courts or governments as acting too slowly in resolving legal issues either because the existing system is too complex or overburdened, or because the issue or party in question lacks political favour.
Lawyers, perhaps more so than anyone else, would be acutely aware of this legal maxim.
There are several lawyers in the House of Assembly on both sides of the political divide, and even the Speaker, Michael Carrington, is an attorney.
Which is why I’m finding it so hard to fathom the reasons behind the delay in resolving the issue involving Cabinet Minister Dr David Estwick and Opposition MP Dale Marshall.
The March 19 incident has been simmering at varying levels of heat for three clear months, and we have only just reached the stage where it has been formally referred to the Committee of Privileges of the House of Assembly for enquiry, report and recommendation.
Both individuals can rightly claim to be the aggrieved parties in this lengthy, drawn-out saga: Estwick, because his reputation has been dented in the public’s eye by an allegation he has stoutly denied, and Marshall, because of his assertion that he was “fearful for my life and safety” when faced with Estwick holding a firearm and looking at him in a “menacing way”.
They would each want a far speedier resolution to this matter than the process so far would indicate is possible: Estwick, because he would want to vindicate his position that “at no time did I brandish a weapon or threaten any member of Parliament”, and Marshall, because he wants the minister sanctioned for conduct which he believed was “likely to bring this House into disrepute”.Equally, members of the public, who would have voted to put those MPs in the Lower House to represent their interests, would also want justice.
They would expect an assurance that representatives will not only uphold the time-honoured traditions of good behaviour in the Chamber, but also a guarantee of MPs’ safety from the crackpots in the public, and (dare I say it?) from their own colleagues.
Essentially, what the committee will be asked to do is to weigh and judge the veracity of the statements to the House made by both MPs.Marshall’s say
At the core of Marshall’s statement was this: “As I rounded the edge of the curtain, I saw the Honourable Member for St Philip West bend over and remove his firearm from his ankle holster. He returned to an erect position with his body turned towards me with the firearm in his hand. The firearm was still in his right hand and he was looking at me in a menacing way.
“The Honourable Member then pushed the firearm into his pants waistband on his left side, directly in front of me. He then turned and opened the door and exited the Chamber.
“At the time when I saw the Honourable Member remove the firearm and with the firearm in his hand, I was fearful for my life and safety.”
Estwick’s “defence”: “Let me make it abundantly clear to all, that I did not initiate the confrontation. And neither did I brandish, or threaten with a weapon, any member of this House, as has been implicitly speculated. Nevertheless, Mr Speaker, even though there have been attempts to blow this matter entirely out of proportion, I wish to apologise to you for whatever part I may have played in the events of March 19, 2010.”
According to Estwick, his behaviour may have reflected poorly on the standing and reputation of the House of Assembly. “… But I will reiterate, that at no time did I brandish a weapon or threaten any member of Parliament.”   
Each MP is seeking “justice” in his own way, and though Marshall could suggest – with little credibility – that he may lack “political favour” since he is a member of the Opposition, such a charge would not stand in the face of a bipartisan committee.
Which brings me to the issue of the committee itself, and the possible reasons it has not yet met to determine the issue.
It is known that the Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) MP for Christ Church West, Dr William Duguid, will not be seeking re-election in that constituency, and has also signalled his intention of resigning from the seven-member Committee of Privileges as one of his party’s representatives.Vacancy
In addition, another vacancy would have arisen following the decision of the St Michael South East MP, Hamilton (Hammie-La) Lashley, to return to the fold of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) after having served as a BLP MP, and one of its representatives on the committee.
It would appear to me that the only valid reason that could be advanced for the delay in this committee getting about its business is that of sorting out its composition.
Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley may be limited in her choice of replacements, but there seems to be no real cause for delay, and she could quite easily inform the Speaker that her selections would be St Thomas MP, Cynthia Forde, and St Michael North MP, Ronald Toppin – St James North MP, Rawle Eastmond, notwithstanding.
The next sitting of the House of Assembly is scheduled for Tuesday, June 29, and surely, the composition of the committee ought to be settled by then, which would enable
it to meet and consider the Estwick/Marshall matter expeditiously thereafter.
Mottley recently made much of the CLICO issue being a matter of “urgent public importance” in calling for a parliamentary debate on that beleaguered enterprise.
Maybe now she can give that urgent attention to the filling of these two committee vacancies so it can get on with its work on a matter that has caused much agitation among the public.

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