King’s Counsel Justin Simon confirms that Governor-General can legally commission an inquiry without PM’s approval

Noted King’s Counsel Justin Simon says the claim made last Thursday by a government spokesperson – that the Governor-General has no legal authority to call a Commission of Inquiry – is not correct.

During the May 18 post-Cabinet press briefing, Lionel “Max” Hurst made the erroneous statement, claiming the law is very clear on this matter and that it is the Cabinet who makes this decision.

He was referring to the call on Governor-General Sir Rodney Williams – by concerned citizens, members of the clergy, and the United Progressive Party – for a Commission of Inquiry into the Antigua Airways/migrant-smuggling issue that has occupied public discussion since late last year.

Simon says it is understandable that a request has been made for the Inquiry and that Sir Rodney, as the head of State, would wish to consult with the prime minister, as the head of the Government.  In and of itself, that is not an issue, he says.

However, although the law speaks to consultation between both offices, the senior attorney says it does not mean the governor-general has to follow the advice of the prime minister.

While Sir Rodney may opt to hold discussions with the prime minister first, which can be expected, Simon says that Prime Minister Browne – despite his powers under the Constitution – cannot direct the governor-general in these circumstances.  Additionally, he says the head of State is under no obligation to follow the advice or instructions of the prime minister.

With the public indicating to the prime minister that there is a need for a Commission of Inquiry into the Antigua Airways/migrant-smuggling matter, one should be commissioned to clear the air on these issues, the King’s Counsel says.

Given the tragic boat incident of March 28 (in which at least three Cameroonians drowned) and other related issues, it appears that Antigua and Barbuda was to be used as a transit point for the West Africans to get to other destinations.  Accordingly, Simon says, an investigation is necessary.

Simon says he was not convinced by the Browne Administration’s excuse – that it was duped in the matter of three flights that brought hundreds of West Africans here in November and December 2022.

In the meantime, some residents are asking about the source of funds to undertake a Commission of Inquiry, which is costly, and since the Government complains that it is broke.

They want to know how Sir Rodney would convince the accountant-general to release funds for the Inquiry when the Office of the Governor-General is dependent on the Cabinet or the Ministry of Finance.  to

But, according to Simon, the legislation is quite clear that the governor-general can direct the accountant-general to make the necessary payments.

Meanwhile, Harold Lovell, also an attorney and the former political leader of the UPP, disagrees with Hurst’s comments, as well.

In a letter to the editor of the Daily Observer, Lovell contradicts Hurst, noting that the governor-general can act at his own discretion.

He says the head of state should exercise the authority given to him by the Constitution, and by the Commissions of Inquiry legislation, to act in the people’s interest and to restore or preserve confidence in the conduct of public affairs.

In the meantime, the people are reminded that a precedent already has been set with regards to a governor-general commissioning a public inquiry.

In 2001, former Governor-General Sir James Carlisle ignored the wishes of then Prime Minister Lester Bird and called an inquiry into the Medical Benefits Scheme, since the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was unable, at that time, to deal with a forensic audit of the Scheme.

That inquiry unearthed a number of scandals taking place at the MBS.  At least four persons were charged as a result, including a former Antigua Labour Party government minister and the Scheme’s accountant.

The trial resulted in monies being repaid, the accountant being sentenced to prison, and the minister being fined.