Embattled Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) parliamentary representative for Christ Church West, Dr Maria Agard, may not have to bother about being expelled or suspended from the party after all.
Barbados TODAY understands that following last week’s decision by the Mia Mottley-led National Council to summon Dr Agard to appear before them on Sunday on nine disciplinary charges, legal minds – both within and outside of the main Opposition party – have been pouring over the BLP’s constitution in search of the grounds.
However, one senior constitutional attorney, who is very familiar with the BLP’s constitution, today warned that the National Council was walking on shaky ground and that legal action could very well ensue, should it proceed this weekend with the planned action against Dr Agard.
“. . . any act of discipline in a manner like this would be subject to the most serious scrutiny brought out by court action,” the senior attorney said.
He did not want to be identified by name, but, quoting from Sections 81, 82 and 83 of the BLP’s constitution, he explained that while the party has the right to discipline any member, its constitution is “woefully” lacking in terms of setting out how any such action would be carried out.
The attorney stressed that while the BLP constitution clearly states that the National Council has the right to suspend or discipline any member for certain reasons, “it doesn’t tell you what procedure it will go through to institute either expulsion or suspension.
“That is fatal. As a matter of fact, if it had to come up in a court of law, it would be extremely fatal,” the noted Queen’s Counsel emphasized.
Further pouring cold water over the current move to discipline Dr Agard, he pointed out that the BLP constitution also does not state how many members of the National Council should be involved, or even if a tribunal should be extracted from the Council to hear disciplinary charges and impose sanctions.
“All serious constitutions or every serious institution, whether it be Government or private or even a members’ club, has a code for disciplining a member [and] sets out the
procedure that has to be followed. “That is a woeful shortcoming of an institution that must
be 75 years old, that its constitution does not set out a procedure by which the National Council should proceed to discipline anybody,” the top lawyer contended.
Section 81 of the BLP constitution, however, prescribes that the National Council reserves the right to discipline members through suspension or expulsion, if:
(a) he joins another political party.
(b) he canvasses for, or speaks on the platform on behalf of a candidate of an opposing party.
(c) he leaks or gives confidential or important information in such a way as to cause embarrassment or harm to the party.
(d) through writings or utterances in any other way, it can be established that he acted in a manner inimical to the best interest of the party.”
Section 82 also gives the party the right to discipline a constituency branch through dissolution or suspension of the branch or of the committee or individual members of the branch who act in defiance of the constitution.
“The National Council shall, before imposing any form of discipline on any such member, inform the branch, member of governing committee concerned in writing and give a reasonable opportunity to be heard. What is significant, her charges are all under 81(c) and (d),” the legal counsel submitted.
Dr Agard, who is Shadow Minister of Health, has been at loggerheads with her branch executive committee, as well as some senior members of the party.
Among the nine charges that have been levelled against her are that she spoke to members of the media, wrote nasty posts on Facebook and made public utterances deemed inimical to the BLP.
Members of the National Council also seem upset that she did not attend last month’s Annual Conference at the Christ Church Foundation School and that she missed four recent BLP nominations in Christ Church.
The matter has divided the party with some members of the parliamentary group, including veteran MPs George Payne and Ronald Toppin, standing in Dr Agard’s corner.
Today, another legal mind suggested that a special conference of the party would have to be held to lend legitimacy to what the National Council was trying to achieve.
One party stalwart also commented on the situation, saying “the same entity which is prosecutor is also the judge, is also the jury”. He described the move to discipline Dr Agard as “scary” and “fraught” with legal challenges in
the absence of any independent tribunal. Her troubles in Christ Church West have also led to
speculation over who is being groomed to replace her with General Secretary, Dr Jerome Walcott, a former Christ Church South MP, yet to deny that he has eyes on the riding.
In recent days, the name of the party’s PRO Indar Weir has also been tossed into the ring after he was seen canvassing for the BLP between Rendezvous and Forde’s Road, Christ Church.
With the Dr Agard matter said to be dividing the party, the attorney said court action remains a real possibility.