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Petitions judge gives supplemental reasons requested by respondents

Petitions judge gives supplemental reasons requested by respondents
Justice Stanley John

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The judge who heard the election petitions has finally given reasons for rejecting the two issues which he had previously omitted to examine in his final decision.

Justice Stanley John, who presided over the election petitions trial in February, was called upon one day after he gave his oral decision to address claims by one of the petitioners (New Democratic Party Candidate Lauron Baptiste), that there were 39 more counterfoils than ballots at polling station NW1, and that there was no final count for the votes in North Windward, which he had omitted to address.

Joseph Delves, counsel for the respondents (Returning Officer Ville Davis, Presiding Officer Veronica John, former Supervisor of Elections Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb and Unity Labour Party(ULP) candidate for North Windward in the 2015 elections Montgomery Daniel), on advice from Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, had written to the registrar of the High Court on March 22, asking her to draw to Justice John’s attention to the fact that he had omitted to give his reasons for rejecting those two claims.

March 22 was a day after Justice John’s temporary appointment by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) ended, and so it seemed that the judge’s hands were tied.

The matter was finally requested to be referred to the Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira of the ECSC, so that she could make a decision in law on whether the Justice could be reappointed.

Dated June 13, Justice John’s supplemental reasons to his decision on these two pleadings were filed with the ECSC.

In looking at whether, on the evidence presented during the trial, it could be said that there was a final count, the judge first looked at whether there was proper notice of the final count.

According to the House of Assembly Election rules, the returning officer, Ville Davis in this case, must give notice of the time and place where the votes for the candidates will be finally counted. The rules say that this ought to be published in one or more newspapers, and notices posted at various places in the district that the returning officer deems necessary. The format for this publication should be in the form six set out in the rules.

John acknowledged that by all accounts, on either side of the courtroom, neither the petitioners nor his agents were at the final count. However, apart from simply stating that there had been no notice of the final count, the judge said there was no evidence produced by the petitioner that there was no notice.

Davis had countered that he had posted the requisite “form six” at the police stations and in newspapers before the election date, and this was not countered in cross examination.

“Accordingly, the court was satisfied that there was due notice of the final count in accordance with the Representation of the People Act,” wrote the Judge in his June 13 decision.

The Justice noted that Davis (returning officer) had faltered while giving his evidence in court but remained consistent under cross examination that there was indeed a final count.

Cheryl Sutherland was the key witness for the North Windward petition, and her “evidence was, in many instances, contradictory and unreliable,” according to John. He compared where Sutherland had said in her written statement that she had seen no form six (and it could be inferred from this that she knew what this was and was on guard for it), but under cross examination she had said that the only form six she knew was from school.

Further, by Sutherland’s evidence, the entire process of counting took five hours, with less one half hour break. “But she testified that the process of opening each box, checking the contents, and noting the count allegedly written on the envelope took 10 minutes each, which meant the entire process took 140 minutes or two hours and 20 minutes in all, which left a further two hours and ten minutes unaccounted.”

“The allegations made in the complaint were extremely serious and therefore warranted cogent, compelling and reliable evidence in support thereof. The evidence of Ms Sutherland was unsatisfactory, unreliable, and very contradictory. In all circumstances the court rejected the complaint,” the acting High Court judge concluded.

He also addressed the claim that there were 39 excess counterfoils at polling station NW1, which would mean that there were 39 extra ballots that were not accounted for.

The presiding officer Veronica John had given evidence that the issue was brought to her attention at the preliminary count, and a recount was conducted and the number of ballots and counterfoils equalled. The petitioner however claimed that the issue was not resolved. The court had found Veronica John to be a credible witness and believed her evidence.

Justice John also referenced the numbers tallied by two witnesses for the petitioners at the preliminary count. These were Neleon Adams and Kendall Sandy.

They gave evidence that at the preliminary count, there were 366 votes counted, and they broke down how these votes had been distributed between the candidates, and which ones were rejected.

He compared this to the final count of voters which was referenced by Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb, and this confirms the number that voted was 366.

John stated based on all of this information, he would dismiss the complaint.

On March 21 this year, John had dismissed the petitions which alleged serious irregularities at the polls of the December 2015 general elections. He ruled that the ULP candidates, Sir Louis Straker and Montgomery Daniel had been validly returned to the Central Leeward and North Windward constituencies, as against the petitioners Benjamin Exeter and Lauron Baptiste.

The petitioners have since filed an appeal on this decision as it relates to both petitions. The appeal related to Central Leeward was filed on April 30, and for North Windward on April 23.

Some grounds of the appeal include the judge failing to “treat with” specific complaints made by the petitioners.

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