Former premier Andrew Fahie came one step closer to losing his First District seat in the House of Assembly on July 19 when Speaker Corine George-Massicote refused to excuse his absence from the fifth sitting of the HOA’s fourth session.
Ms. George-Massicote said Mr. Fahie gave notice that he wouldn’t attend, but in light of his continued absence and upcoming January trial in the United States, she didn’t consider excusing his absence to be in the public interest.
“I am minded not to grant leave to the honourable member for this sitting, or any subsequent sitting for such time as the circumstances of his nonattendance remain the same,” she said on July 19.
She did not, however, say if Mr. Fahie would be compelled to vacate his seat as an elected member.
Mr. Fahie is currently on house arrest in Miami following his April 28 arrest on drug and money-laundering conspiracy charges.
He has missed every meeting of the House after his arrest, including part of the second sitting and the entirety of the third, fourth and fifth sittings.
The Constitution requires an elected HOA member to vacate their seat if absent “for such period and in such circumstances as may be prescribed” by the HOA’s Standing Orders.
Section 84 of the Standing Orders, in turn, states, “A member of the House shall vacate his seat if the member in any one session is absent from the House for more than three consecutive sittings without the written leave of the speaker.”
However, the Standing Orders don’t say if missing part of a multi-day sitting counts toward the three-sitting limit.
“As speaker, I am responsible for ensuring the observance of the Standing Orders by the House and committee, to maintain order and decorum without bias or personal agenda,” Ms. George-Massicote said on July 19 in a statement at the beginning of the fifth sitting. “In recent days, there has been considerable public interest as to whether leave should be or has been granted to the honourable member of the First District, Andrew A. Fahie, with reference to the ongoing criminal proceedings in the United States of America.”
Ms. George-Massicote said she had excused his absence from the fourth sitting but not the fifth on July 19 or the sixth scheduled to start July 21, and she indicated she would not excuse any further absences before his trial.
She also noted that he first provided written notice of his absence on June 23, identifying the terms of his bail conditions in the US as the reason.
“I wish to emphasise at this time that it is neither appropriate nor necessary for me to provide comment on the criminal charges that have been laid against the honourable member,” she added.
When she was debating whether to excuse Mr. Fahie from the fourth sitting, Ms. George-Massicote said, she first considered her view that members should always give notice of their absences in advance of a sitting, inclusive of the circumstances that prevent them from attending.
“It is important to note that Standing Order 84.2 does not define the criteria upon which the speaker should grant leave,” she said. “Where the Standing Orders are silent on a particular matter, the speaker shall resort to the usage and practice of the House of Commons of Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
She added that she considered whether Mr. Fahie satisfied his obligation to give notice for the fourth sitting based on those guidelines. She noted that neither UK house enforces the attendance of parliamentarians.
“In fact, the laying of a criminal charge against a member [in the House of Commons] has no effect on his or her eligibility to remain in office,” she said. “This clearly indicates that the House of Commons’ practice relating to members’ attendance is more relaxed than it is in this territory and does not offer much assistance or guidance.”
The speaker said she was satisfied that Mr. Fahie provided appropriate notice for the fourth sitting on June 30. Before being rescheduled for January, she noted, his trial was originally scheduled to start on July 18 and could have “resulted in a natural determination of his eligibility to retain his seat as an elected member.”
“This appeared to me to be a temporary circumstance, and on this basis I granted the honourable member leave from the fourth sitting of the fourth session of the fourth House of Assembly,” she said.
Mr. Fahie also missed the third sitting of the House that started on May 26, but Ms. George-Massicote did not address that sitting on July 19.
Fifth, sixth sittings
Mr. Fahie provided notice of his absence from the fifth and sixth sittings, again citing the conditions of his house arrest, she said. But she added that the granting of leave for any member should not be assumed and is always subject to scrutiny.
“While the honourable member has not disclosed a timeframe for his return, I must note a request made on his behalf to have his trial traversed to January 2023,” she said.
If he was facing the same circumstances in the territory, the matter would be irrelevant if he were able to attend sittings anyway, according to the speaker.
“However, this is not the case, and the significance of traversing the trial is the reality of the honourable member’s inability to fulfil his duties as a member of this House over the next five to six months,” she said. “This, in my view, is not in the public’s interest.”
She said that was the basis for her decision not to grant leave. The speaker also recommended that the HOA consider clarifying the section of the Standing Orders on the conditions for granting leave.