We recall that following the general elections of 9th December 2015, two of the candidates for the New Democratic Party, Mr. Benjamin Exeter and Mr. Lauron Baptiste, filed petitions challenging the election results in Central Leeward and North Windward constituencies, respectively.
The Respondents in the matters, (i.e. the relevant Returning Officer, Presiding officer, the Supervisor of Elections, Sir Louis Straker, Mr. Montgomery Daniel and the Attorney General of St. Vincent and the Grenadines) filed applications in the Court to have the petitions struck out on the basis that they had not met the requirements of section 58(1)(b) and (c) of The Representation of the People Act and Rule 9 of the House of Assembly (Election Petition Rules) 2014 which set out the procedure and conditions for providing security for costs.
The application to strike out the petitions was heard before Justice Brian Cottle on the 4th March, 2016. At that hearing, the Petitioners’ lawyers made a preliminary objection to the application on the basis that the Court lacked jurisdiction to hear it at that stage of the petitions proceedings. Despite the objections of the lawyers for our candidates, the Judge proceeded to hear the application to strike out the petitions.
In a written decision delivered on the 4th day of April, 2016, Justice Cottle ultimately agreed with the Petitioners and ruled that the petitions could not be struck at that stage of the proceedings but if the motion to strike were properly brought before him later, he would allow it and strike out the petitions.
When the petitions came before Justice Cottle for hearing on the 16th June 2016, the motion to strike out the petitions was again brought by the Respondents. The motion was granted (as Justice Cottle had previously said would happen) and the petitions were struck out. Mr. Exeter and Mr. Baptiste appealed against that decision striking out their petitions.
After much delay, and despite the efforts of the lawyers for Mr. Exeter and Mr. Baptiste to have the appeal heard earlier, the appeal was finally heard on March 7, 2017, in St. Lucia. Mr. Exeter and Mr. Baptiste won the appeal which paved the way for the hearing of the petitions.
The Court of Appeal ordered that the Petitions should be heard expeditiously. There were several adjournments to the case. A trial date of September 24-28, 2018 was set but was later vacated at the request of the Respondents. During a case management hearing on 12thJuly 2018, December 3rd was set aside for the commencement of the trial of the petitions.
Prior to hearing on December 3rd, Mr. Grahame Bollers, one of the lawyers for Respondents Louis Straker and Montgomery Daniel, filed an application in the Court to have the December trial dates vacated on the grounds that he was ill and could not attend trial and his client did not wish to proceed without him. In the application,
it was stated that Mr. Bollers had been becoming progressively unwell over the last three to four months and was experiencing symptoms not inconsistent with cardiovascular problems. The application was raised at a hearing on Tuesday November 27th 2018, at which time, the Judge deferred it to December 3rd for full hearing. At the request of the lawyers for Respondents in the Petitions, the hearing date was moved up to Friday 30th November, 2018.
At that hearing, the Petitioners Mr. Exeter and Mr. Baptiste were represented by Senator and Lawyer Kay Bacchus Baptiste. Despite her strenuous and well-argued objections and submissions on behalf of the Petitioners, Justice Henry granted the application and adjourned the trial, once more, to February 11, 2019.
The judge also ordered Sir Louis Straker and Mr. Montgomery Daniel seek a new lead counsel to replace Mr. Bollers.
I am very disappointed—the entire NDP– is very disappointed with the further delay of the trial of the petitions. It has been three years since the general elections were held and the petitions filed! Yet, the matter has not been resolved in Court.
We deplore the fact that after three years, the people of this country still do not know whether the government was duly elected and is legitimate. How can this be? It is an unacceptable state of affairs in a modern democratic society.
The petitions could have been decided a long time ago if the parties on the other side (i.e. the Respondent in the Petitions) had shown any interest in having them decided by the Court once and for all. Instead, they have sought to delay and drag the cases out as long as possible.
Why? What do they have to hide? Why put up such a desperate fight to prevent the petitions from being tried before the Judge if they have nothing to hide? The people have a right to ask these questions.
And I hope that even those people who may have voted for the government, ask those questions as well.
But this is not the only concerning matter about the saga of the petitions. There is an even more recent development. Yesterday, our lawyers and other lawyers were summoned to Court. At that time, Justice Henry related certain developments that she explained led her to decide to remove herself from the case.
This is a major development that holds serious implications for the progress of the cases. I will let Senator Baptiste, as counsel for the Petitioners who was present in court yesterday, say more about that.