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Judge rules application to strike out is premature

Judge rules application to strike out is premature

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The two election petitions filed by the New Democratic Party (NDP) will remain in the court system for the time being, but when they are eventually heard, it is likely that they will be struck out.

Yesterday, Justice Brian Cottle, in a written judgment, ruled that it would be {{more}}premature to strike out the petitions which seek to overturn the results of the general elections of December 9, 2015 in the Central Leeward and North Windward constituencies, as the solicitors for the Government had sought.

“I agree with counsel for the petitioners that I am compelled to follow the decision of the Court of Appeal per Rawlins CJ in Joseph v Reynolds. The application to strike out is premature.

“This court has no jurisdiction to entertain it by means of an interlocutory application in chambers. I therefore refuse the application to strike out at this stage.”

The judge, however, said that if lawyers for the Government apply for the petitions to be struck out when the petitions are argued before the High Court, they will succeed.

“However, having had the benefit of full arguments, I am of the view that such an application, if made at the beginning of the hearing of the petition, is bound to succeed. This indication may be of some assistance to the parties in deciding the way forward and saving costs, time and national uncertainty.”

On leaving the courthouse after receiving Cottle’s ruling, members of the NDP leadership met with their lawyers, who explained the ruling to them and although the ruling spoke of the likely failure of the petitions if they are heard, spokespersons for the party say yesterday’s judgement is a victory for them, as it has kept their petitions alive in the court system.

Declining to speak to the media after Justice Cottle’s ruling was explained to him, president of the NDP Arnhim Eustace instead greeted his supporters gathered outside the courthouse, then journeyed to Nice Radio at Dorsetshire Hill to speak about the decision.

The Opposition Leader said the Government did not succeed in striking out the NDP petitions, “and in that sense, they lost, we won.”

He said that Justice Cottle’s statement about the eventual failure of the petition means to him, that Cottle will recuse himself from the hearing of the petitions.

“I have read that comment; I have had some consultations on it and Justice Cottle, I read that as him trying to recuse himself; that is, not be involved in the process going forward as a judge,” said Eustace.

“Justice Cottle’s decision was that the application made by the Government failed and he is adding his comment, indicating that further down the road, if the application is brought, it will succeed.

“I don’t think and expect therefore he will be involved further down the road when it is time for the applications to come again,” said Eustace.

The East Kingstown representative said his party had “won the battle today” and the matter would continue. He said they now have to deal with other aspects of the case, including the situation where a member of the OAS observer group to the December 2015 elections has agreed to return to testify on behalf of the NDP.

“… Our lawyers advised us that they will be going along with those right away.”

Eustace said that he was happy to see the number of supporters that turned up outside the courthouse and stressed that the NDP now has to move forward as the issue at hand, in their opinion, is a threat to our democracy.

“The NDP is going to increase efforts in this regard and I will be making another public address in a few days. Let no one feel that this matter ends here. This matter will continue until justice is done here in St Vincent and the Grenadines,” said Eustace.

He also noted that as the matter rages on, persons are getting uncomfortable with the present situation, but the NDP is constantly trying to keep the matter cool, “but there are limits to that…serious limitations to that. We represent a peaceful party and we have tried to do that in everything we have done, but there are limits to everything. There are times when we say things and people have a completely different view, but we are working to ensure that justice is done in this country and democracy is returned to the benefit of the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”

The Opposition Leader said that in his opinion, he does not think that there has ever been a situation like the one that currently exists in the country, as it relates to the involvement of people, as persons are of the opinion that “this issue threatens democracy.”

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Government noted in a release that they respect the judge’s ruling and are pleased that Justice Cottle has ruled that if the same application is made at the beginning of the hearing of the election petitions themselves, the petitions would be struck out.

“This ruling vindicates the position of the Respondents. The Respondents reserve their respectful opinion on the Judge’s ruling of the prematurity of the instant application,” said the solicitors for the respondents in a written statement.

It has not been stated when the election petitions will be heard and there is no indication that Justice Cottle will recuse himself as the Leader of the Opposition has suggested.

The solicitors for the Government are Anthony Astaphan SC, Richard Williams and Grahame Bollers, while those for the petitioners were Stanley John QC, Kay Bacchus-Browne, Andreas Coombs and Shirlan Barnwell, instructed by Maia Eustace.

The petitioners in the matters are candidates for the NDP Lauron Baptiste and Benjamin Exeter, while the respondents are supervisor of elections Sylvia Findlay; successful Unity Labour Party candidates Montgomery Daniel and Louis Straker; returning officers Vil Davis and Winston Gaymes; presiding officers Veronica John and Kathleen Jeffers.

Arguments related to the application (Claim number 202 of 2015) to strike out the petitions were heard on March 4.

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