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NIA Civil Proceedings Bill 2023 debated upon by Members of Parliament; Richards and Harris call for Public Consultations

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by Eulana Weekes

St.Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The Nevis Island Administration (Civil Proceedings) Bill, 2023, which was debated in the National Assembly of St. Kitts and Nevis, drove a slightly tense debate between the members of Parliament.

On Thursday, May 25, 2023, Hon. Garth Wilkin- Attorney General of St. Kitts and Nevis, led the debate on the Bill. He said the Bill was collaboratively drafted by the Attorney General’s Office and the Legal Department of the Premier’s Office.

The Attorney General presented the three main provisions of the Bill to the National Assembly.

“Subject to Section 37 (6) Cap 10 and Schedule 5 of the Constitution. The Nevis Island Administration shall have the power to sue and be sued in its own name. All documents required to be served on the Nevis Island Administration for the purpose of or in connection with any civil proceedings against the Nevis Island Administration shall be served on the Legal Department of the Office of the Premier of the Nevis Island Administration; and lastly, all documents required to be served on an officer of the Nevis Island Administration as the state from the Nevis Island Administration itself shall be served personally on that officer.”

A.G Wilkin explained that the Bill serves as a precursor to a “holistic constitutional enhancement exercise” that the Federal Government and the NIA are trying to achieve, to govern the country for at least the next four decades.

“The Constitution, therefore, created the Nevis Island Administration. It is firmly a legal creature with judicial standing sanctioned by the highest law of this land. However, without specific provisions in the Constitution that allowed the NIA to sue and be sued and the Crown Proceedings Act being drafted at a time when there was a singular state made up of three islands at that time (St. Kitts – Nevis – Anguilla), there was room for an interpretation that there was no legal permission for the NIA to be sued and be sued [separately] from the single state. The Bill table today seeks to plug that gap.”

As an example of a legislative gap that needed to be filled, Attorney General Wilkin referred to the judgement written by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Chief Justice, Dame Janice Perreira, in the court case between the Nevis Island Administration and the Ocean Reef Resort Limited.

The judgement  delivered on August 17, 2022, concluded that “the NIA has no legal standing to sue and be sued in civil proceedings, given the applicability of the Crown Proceedings Act to Nevis; and further, that the proper party to Ocean Reef’s claim and the proper party to be sold in respect of the claim is the Attorney General of St. Kitts and Nevis.” 

The Attorney General said the Federal Government was not involved in the dispute between the NIA and Ocean Reef  Limited.

In contrast, Hon. Shawn Richards, Member for St. Christopher 5 and Hon. Dr Timothy Harris, Member for St. Christopher 7, though in respect of the presentation by the leader of the Bill, did not agree with rushing three readings of the bill in a single day.

Richards stated, “Let me make it abundantly clear, Madam Speaker, that I am not against what we are attempting to do; what I take exception with is how it is being done, with three readings in one particular day without giving the public that opportunity to be able to scrutinise the legislation and to provide feedback in terms of the legislation. That, in particular, Madam Speaker, is where I take exception. I heard the Hon. Premier for Nevis in his presentation, and he spoke to the fact that, over the years, this has been the practice, and while, yes, it has been the practice over the years, it doesn’t mean that we come to parliament and in one sitting we attempt to change the constitution of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis.”

Richards added, “In terms of Section 102 and Section 106 of the Constitution, they would be affected by this particular piece of legislation. As a matter of fact, it is why the Constitution says that you require two-thirds support of the members of parliament in order to make this particular change.”

The Hon. Dr Timothy Harris, though he respected the arguments presented by Hon. Mark Brantley and Hon. Alexis Jeffers, he stated clearly that the people of St. Kitts and Nevis should have been allowed to air their perspectives of the Bill.

“At the heart of the matter, at the heart of the matter, are powers expressly put in the Constitution and which the court has made a determination on. This is fundamental. This is not just a matter respectfully for the Chambers of the Attorney General and the Legal Department of the NIA. This is a matter so fundamental, and I feel what the Member for Number 9 and 11 expressed in terms of the implication of it, but the entire country should have an opportunity to know more and understand the ramifications of the Bill which we are bringing here. The entire country; there goes the fundamental point of the consultations. If there was ever a Bill that required it, it must be this one because this was a matter that went before three judges,” expressed Harris.

Wilkin reiterated that the Bill was not geared towards changing the constitution but served to change the Crown Proceedings Framework, which would allow the NIA to sue and be sued in matters exclusive to Nevis.

Premier of Nevis, Member for Nevis 9, Hon. Mark Brantley, expressed gratitude to the Attorney General’s Office and the Legal Department in the NIA for their collaborative work in formulating the Bill.

Both the Nevis Island Administration (Civil Proceedings) Bill, 2023 and the Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act, 2023, were passed.

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