By Angelos Anastasiou
PARLIAMENT has commissioned a lawyer to fight its battle against the government at the Supreme Court over the right to weigh in on setting shop opening hours, House Speaker Yiannakis Omirou said on Thursday.
On Christmas Eve, Attorney-general Costas Clerides filed a request with the Supreme Court to rule on whether parliament has the right to reject the government’s regulations on shops’ working hours.
In an earlier ruling, the body decided that the right to set policy on opening hours rests solely with the executive branch of government. Days later, parliament voted against the government bill liberalising opening hours, triggering a return to a restrictive 2006 law.
Prior to the rejection, Clerides had warned deputies that the Supreme Court’s ruling effectively meant that the House has no option but to endorse the government proposal. The warning was ignored, and the AG asked the Supreme Court to weigh in.
The case is scheduled to start on January 12.
“I believe that the issue at hand is of immense government and institutional significance, because it relates to the House of Representatives’ constitutional powers,” Omirou told state radio on Thursday morning.
“Because the stakes are so high, the House of Representatives will fight the battle before the Supreme Court. I have appointed a lawyer to handle the case, which is scheduled to start on January 12.”
But, the House Speaker added, the issue could be settled amicably if the government was willing to compromise.
“I hope and wish the government will have second thoughts and seek to strike a balance that will satisfy both sides, so that things don’t deteriorate further,” he said.
Omirou’s ominous remarks appeared to stem from his belief that a Supreme Court ruling forcing parliament to rubberstamp the government’s shop-hours bill, whether it agreed or not, could be transposed to other bills, too, effectively reducing the House to facilitator.
“The goal of this request is for the Supreme Court to find that the House does not have the right to reject regulations,” Omirou claimed.
“That is, that the House must rubberstamp any regulation brought to it by the executive.”
Remarks on the issue by AKEL MP Andreas Fakontis were on a similar theme.
“It is inconceivable and unacceptable for the House to be obligated to accept and approve regulations, as the Attorney-general opined, even when it disagrees with their provisions,” Fakontis said.
“In such a case, the House will simply become a facilitator of government decisions, and will forego its sovereign and inalienable rights.”
However, both men’s remarks ignored the fact that parliament appointed itself arbiter of the shops’ opening hours issue last March, when it stripped Labour minister Zeta Emilianides’ right to set policy by ministerial decree, thus forcing the government’s hand in reclaiming control – which the Supreme Court ratified last month.