KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent: – The Chairman of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC), Queen’s Counsel lawyer Parnel R. Campbell, has called on Vincentians to desist from insulting each other as they discuss the proposed document.
The former member of parliament and former attorney general made the call as he responded to the writer of a newspaper article.
Shefflorn Ballantyne, in his letter “What have to come to… they think we stupid?” published in The News newspaper two weeks ago, said he was “convinced” that Campbell “thinks that our people are stupid”.
He suggested that apart from Campbell, “no reasonable man” would conclude that Section 38 of the 1979 Constitution only allows citizens to vote to support or not support the entire proposed Constitution.
Ballantyne said that Section 38 of the existing constitution “clearly puts the manner of the referendum at the discretion of parliament” and suggested that parliament can allow citizens to vote “yes” on section of the document and “no” on others.
In his “The Law and You” programme on SVGTV Monday night, Campbell questioned Ballantyne’s “special expertise … in constitutional interpretation”, saying that he was informed that Ballantyne taught accounting at the SVG Community College.
“Perhaps he has secret legal qualifications of which I am unaware. Because, while anyone can allege that somebody else is wrong, it is going very far to say that that person thinks that people are stupid because you are in fact saying that I am misleading the public,” Campbell said.
Campbell said that he was involved in parliament on the two occasions when the existing Constitution was amended, using Section 38.
In 1986, Campbell said, he was a senator and deputy Speaker when the Constitution was amended to increase the number of constituencies from 13 to 15.
In 1988, when the Constitution was amended also amended, Campbell was attorney general.
“…I was the one, as attorney general, who piloted the bill in parliament to amend the Constitution of this country, using section 38.”
Campbell said Ballantyne was accusing him of misleading Vincentians because Campbell thought Vincentians were “stupid”.
He said that he hoped that Ballantyne would “in due course … write and tell us what are his superior qualifications to pronounce on the question of constitutional interpretation”.
“… [W]here a person has been involved in parliament actively on the only two occasions when a constitution was ever amended, using, as it had to, Section 38, you have to come really strong to show that that person doesn’t know what he is speaking about, if he speaks about the procedure for amending the Constitution,” Campbell said,
He said that Vincentians should question the qualifications of those who lead and contribute to public discussion.
“Because in this country, there are any number of people who want to proclaim expertise in areas that they know very little about.
“Now, constitutional interpretation is a technical art. It is something to which you need training or you need to be properly advised.”
He said that none of the nine lawyers who were in parliament challenged his interpretation as being wrong when he in May explained why Vincentians cannot vote on sections of the Constitution.
“I said what I had to say, I gave my interpretation of Section 38, nobody has quarreled with that interpretation. And, indeed, you cannot quarrel with that interpretation because it is correct.”
He said that from Ballantyne’s letter “he does not understand the subject”.
“A little learning is a dangerous thing.
“So he proceeds to quote parts of the law, and has the effrontery to say I am not only wrong but I am misleading the public.
“So I want to insist that when I speak about Section 38 of our Constitution, believe me, I know what I am speaking about,” Campbell said, adding that he has been studying constitutional law since 1970 and taught the subject in university.
“I was the guardian of the constitution for eight and a half years as attorney general. So nobody could challenge me, not from the base of saying that am wrong but challenge me on the base that I am misleading the people.”
Campbell said that while Ballantyne was free to criticize his opinions and legal interpretation, he should not “ascribe improper motives”.
“Don’t impute improper motives to me. Don’t tell me I think people are stupid. That is insulting and I don’t think insults have any place in a national debate on constitutional development.
“We of the CRC welcome the expression of opinions by members of the public, but Mr. Shefflorn Ballantyne should remember there’s a difference between expressing your opinion and trying to insult somebody who knows far more about this subject than he will ever know.
“So I hope that is that,” Campbell said before discussing “The Presidency under the Constitution”, the topic for Monday’s programme.
Vincentians will in November vote in a referendum to adopt a new Constitution to replace the one that that came into effect when the country gained independence from Britain 30 years ago.