On February 11, 2019, the long-awaited trial of the election petitions filed by two of the candidates for the New Democratic Party (NDP), Mr. Benjamin Exeter and Mr. Lauron Baptiste, began. Evidence presented by the petitioners’ witnesses and in cross-examination of the Respondents’ witnesses revealed that all was not well with the 2015 elections in Central Leeward and North Windward constituencies.
The evidence revealed many irregularities and illegal conduct on the part of election officials in the conduct of the elections. After several days of evidence and cross-examination of witnesses, the trial concluded, and the parties were invited to make oral and written submissions to the Court. This they did. It was then up to Acting Justice Stanley John to consider all the evidence, relevant to the cases and the arguments of the parties and render his judgment in the matter.
As promised, he gave his decision on March 21, 2019. To our great disappointment and, indeed, consternation, Justice John found that, save for the complaint of partiality on the part of election officials in Central Leeward; there was “no evidence” to support the complaints of the petitioners. With all due respect to the Court, we in the NDP do not agree with that judgment. Our lawyers have advised that the judgment of the Court is flawed in many respects and that there are solid grounds for appeal. In the Court of public opinion, the decision of the Court has also been found wanting, and the general public sentiment has been critical of it. For the petitioners, for the lawyers who have ably represented them, for the NDP and for the wider public the matter is not settled. After three years of struggle, of ups and downs, of highs and lows, of triumphs and setbacks, the matter remains unresolved.
The petitioners, with the full support of the NDP, have therefore decided to appeal the decision of Acting Justice Stanley John to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. I support that decision and the NDP will, as always, stand firmly behind the petitioners, as the parties in the matter, and our legal team as the case proceeds to the Court of Appeal. Our lawyers are in the process of preparing the necessary documents to file the appeal. When this work is complete, the appeal will be filed without delay.
When the petitions were filed immediately following the 2015 general elections; we in the NDP gave the commitment to the people of this country that we would pursue the petitions to their just conclusion. We had hoped that the moment would have been March 21, 2019 when Acting Justice Stanley John delivered his decision. Sadly, that was not to be. Despite the testimony of many witnesses and the cogent and well-supported submissions of the petitioners’ leads lawyers, Mr. Stanley “Stalky” John, Q.C. and Mr. Keith Scotland, the Court ruled against the petitioners.
We are profoundly disappointed with that decision, and will persevere. The route of appeal has been used successfully by us before and we will return to that arena again in our continuing and legitimate search for a just result in the matter. I am hopeful that the Court of Appeal will review the evidence and the jurisprudence and come to a different decision from that of the trial judge. We have good reason to hope that this will happen. Our lawyers have advised us that the judgment is deeply flawed and that it presents many good grounds for appeal.
Some may say that general elections in SVG are close at hand and voters can settle the matter conclusively in how they vote at that time. So, why appeal? The short answer is, we must know; the people must know; definitively that what happened in the 2015 general elections was wrong and will not be allowed to stand. This will give greater confidence to all that such conduct will not happen in future elections in SVG.
We will do all in our power to ensure that the appeal is prosecuted without delay. We believe it is critical that we have a final decision before elections are called again in this country. The people need to know that what happened in 2015 general elections was wrong and that it will not stand. Moreover, they need the assurance that these illegal and irregular practices by election officials, many of them who are patently partisan, will not be allowed to affect elections in the future. In short, public confidence in our electoral system needs to be restored so that whenever there is an election in this country, they can trust the system to deliver a proper result that reflects the will of our people. This is why we must continue with the case.
Unfortunately, the history of this matter has been marked by repeated delays instigated by the Respondents. We hope that the progress of the appeal will not be deliberately slowed by the Respondents and that the matter will be completed as quickly as possible. I wish I could say to you that I am confident that that would happen. But, sadly, I cannot. I have learned from experience over the past three years that the Respondent will delay and prevaricate as much as possible. But, make no mistake, we will persevere and push as much as we can to bring the matter to a hearing before the court of appeal.
As you know, we are not the only ones who believe the judgment is flawed. The lawyers for the Respondents also think so and have written to the Registrar of the High Court saying that the decision is flawed and urging that Justice Stanley John fix it by giving additional reasons for his decision.
This is extraordinary! The people who claimed they won the petitions cases are now complaining that the decision of the Judge in respect of the North Windward constituency case, is seriously flawed.