Embattled opposition senator, Vynnette Frederick was greeted with applause from her colleagues when she entered Parliament on Thursday, an act that the Speaker, Hendrick Alexander, described as “disrespectful”.
Frederick is scheduled to return to court Nov. 13 to answer nine charges against her, relating to false declarations, swearing falsely, and fabricating evidence.
Police re-arrested her on July 11 and laid nine charges against her, hours after a magistrate dismissed six charges against her.
The charges stem from the contents of affidavits she had submitted as a part of a private criminal complaint against Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, in relation to statements he made during the 2010 election campaign.
Minister of Education, Girlyn Miguel was congratulating the nation’s students on their performance in this year’s Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations when Frederick walked into Parliament.
The opposition lawmaker then broke out in applause.
“Just a minute Honourable Member. What is this really?” the Speaker asked.
“Mr. Speaker, this is the first session of this Parliament since a Member of this House was freed and then rearrested by the authorities,” Opposition Leader, Arnhim Eustace said.
“This is a person who — a woman in this society, an officer of the court, and a member of this Honourable House, and we take Mr. Speaker, a very strong objection to the manner in which this whole exercise was carried out. And we want to point this out, Mr. Speaker, because this arrest was carried out without even a warrant,” Eustace further said.
“Honourable Member, this is not the moment for that. If you want to make that point, or any such, you will inform this chair. … what you have actually done there, it is more most disrespectful. The Honourable Minister of Education is making a statement as Minister and it has been disrupted and I thought you were getting here to apologise for the disruption,” the speaker responded.
“Mr Speaker, you indicated when we got up that things should slow down. You said, ‘What is this now?’ I assumed–” Eustace was saying when the Speaker cut him off.
“But you are making a statement on this. I expected to hear … an apology for that kind of disruption. I don’t expect you to be going on and making a speech in relation to what transpired, beyond the authority of this Parliament.”
Eustace, however pointed out that the arrest was of a Member of Parliament, adding “I mean no disrespect to the Minister [of Education].”
“Honourable Member, I think you have been very disrespectful to the Minister and I think you should apologise to the Minister and take your seat, we can probably deal with the other matters,” the Speaker said.
“Mr. Speaker, I mean no disrespect to the Minister. That was never my intention–” Eustace said, as the Speaker interjected, “And therefore you are apologising.”
“My intention was to bring this matter before this House as Sen. Frederick is a Member of this House,” Eustace said.
“Well, Member, you could have done it in a different manner. You know you could have done it in a different manner and I view it as disrespect to the minister. And let us not debate that. You have made an apology and I am asking you to take a seat and let the minister continue with her statement to the House. Things must be done in decently and in good order,” the Speaker further stated.
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who is also Leader of the House, then stood and said:
“I would expect that if a celebratory welcome is given to the Honourable Senator Frederick that also some form of expression of regret be made to the Prime Minister of tis country upon whom the Honourable Senator Frederick lied in court documents. There s a record of that. She lied in affidavits, stated things falsely, directed to a charge to seek to get me out of this House. She lied,” the Prime Minister said.
“So, if you are going to celebrate somebody who lied, consequent as a matter which happened prior to her arrest, the police and the prosecutors deal with that; not this house. But if you lie on me, even in court documents, you should come here and say I am sorry I lied on the Prime Minister.”
The Speaker then told the Education Minister to make her statement.
After the ministerial statement, Eustace rose on a point of order and referred to section 136(1) of the rules of the House, which says “reference shall not be made to any matter that is sub judice in such a way that, in the opinion of the speaker, might prejudice the interest of parties thereto”.
“The reference by the Prime Minister to Miss Frederick, or Senator Frederick, as a liar, is really not in accordance with this order and it should be withdrawn and removed from the record,” the Opposition Leader said.
“If the Honourable Leader of the Opposition is of the opinion that my reference relates to a matter which is sub judice and ought to be withdrawn, I will withdraw it…,” the Prime Minister responded.
He, however said, “… the fact that she (Frederick) lied does not mean she is guilty of a criminal offence. She has a presumption of innocence. But if you want to feel that it might be prejudicial to her, I will withdraw it.
The Prime Minister further said, “I take it too that the comments of the Leader of the Opposition would be similarly withdrawn, because he made an accusation in relation to a matter that she was arrested without warrant, as though this is a matter of illegality, which would arise in the court itself.”
The Speaker ruled that Eustace’s comments in that regard be struck from the record.
But Godwin Friday, Member for the Northern Grenadines, an opposition MP who is a lawyer, said:
“Mr. Speaker, that is a matter of fact that there was an arrest without a warrant. There was not statement made about it. There was no comment made about it…”
The Speaker however told the MP that he did not want to “go on with it”, saying he has heard legal opinions that differ.