The big question on the legal bid to block plans to turn the Corporations of Hamilton and St George’s into unelected quangos is what will the City’s Mayor Charles Gosling do next?
In a 67-page ruling handed down on Friday (Mar 18), the Court of Appeal rejected the City of Hamilton’s appeal against the Government’s Municipalities Amendment Act 2019, claiming it was unconstitutional.
The City lost that case but filed an appeal in November last year.
In this latest ruling, Court of Appeal President, Sir Christoper Clarke, wrote: “There has been no breach of the Corporation’s common law right to the protection of the law.
“Neither the amendment acts, nor the proposed reform act, if enacted, contravene Section 13 of the Constitution.
“I would, accordingly, dismiss the appeal.”
Both Appeal Judges Geoffrey Bell and Dame Elizabeth Gloster agreed.
In published remarks on the ruling, Mayor Gosling was quoted as saying he was “disappointed by the judge’s ruling”.
Moving forward, he said the corporation was “currently in the process of reviewing the lengthy judgment” with their legal team.
“We will report back to the corporation’s council members at a meeting next week, after which point we will determine a way forward,” he added.
The City argued that the Bill would give the Government “overwhelming” control of the municipalities and their properties.
Under the legislation, the Government would appoint mayors and half of the councillors, with the other councillors appointed by the relevant Minister, based on the recommendation of a selection committee.
The City’s lawyer, Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, argued that the legislation amounted to an “abolition” of the Corporation of Hamilton that should have never been dwindled down to a question of political opinion.
“The abolition of elections – people who have been residents in the City of Hamilton for generations now being told they must accept an essentially appointed body that is going to express their so-called voice, where there will be no direct voice whatsoever – that is the reason I am trying to locate this matter in constitutional principle and human rights, specifically the right of expression,” he added.
Lawyer Delroy Duncan QC, who represented the Government, maintained that the municipalities would retain control of their properties as quangoes, as set out in the legislation, which would improve co-operation between both municipalities and the Government.
On that issue, Sir Christopher wrote: “The particular concern of the corporation is that the Minister could, by direction, require the corporation to do something that was not municipal at all and therefore not within its powers.
“I do not share this concern for a number of reasons. I accept the submission made by Mr Duncan that the provision does not empower the Minister to direct the corporation to do that which it lacks power to do under the Municipalities Act, which is the source of its powers.”
Ultimately, he said the corporation’s argument on loss of property should also be dismissed.
City Of Hamilton City Council
“To the extent that the Minister chooses to do so, he may restrict the corporation from acting, or require it to act in a particular way in relation to its property,” he added.
“But that does not, in my view, mean that the minister is, on account of his possession of such powers, to be regarded as, in effect, taking possession of the corporation or acquiring the rights of the corporation in or over it.”
When the legislation was approved by MPs in the Lower House, it was rejected by the Senate, who voted against it and blocked it for a year.
As it stands now, the Act is expected to go back to the House of Assembly, where, if approved, it can be implemented without having to go through the Senate again.
Municipal elections for councillors to represent both corporations were due to be held in May.
But that was postponed for a year by the Government because of the appeal.
That could all change should the City of Hamilton decide to take their case to a higher level.