Judge recuses herself following clash of dates
The decision by Justice Esco Henry to recuse herself from the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Election Petitions case has been described as a “momentous decision” by a local lawyer.
NDP Senator Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, counsel representing the petitioners Lauron Baptiste and Ben Exeter, said on Wednesday that Justice Henry’s decision has far reaching impact on the administration of justice in the country.
On Tuesday, Justice Henry summoned all the parties involved in the Election Petitions case and told them she was recusing herself from the case.
Earlier this year, the hearing of the election petitions was set for December 3 to December 7 at the High Court, but last Friday, those dates were vacated, after the Respondents filed a Notice of Motion for the dates to be vacated given that Grahame Bollers, lead counsel for the respondents, is ill.
February 11, 2019 was the new date set for the beginning of the trial, but on Tuesday, it was revealed that the Court office had scheduled 12 matters to be heard by Henry between December 3 and December 7, without the knowledge of the judge.
On Wednesday, during a press conference at the NDP Headquarters, Bacchus-Baptiste told reporters that when Justice Henry summoned the parties involved to court, they did not know the reason.
Bacchus-Baptiste said when they went to court, Justice Henry explained that on Friday, November 30, after hearing the application by the respondents to vacate the trial date because of Bollers’s illness, she went back to her office and was informed by the clerk that she had several matters set down for hearing on the same days the petitions were to be heard.
“She said it was the first time she was hearing this and she became concerned and she tried to investigate who had made these fixtures and she said the investigation was ongoing,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.
“What disturbed me, and disturbed Justice Henry is that they were 12 matters fixed by the High Court within a week when the petitions were supposed to be heard.
“I know for a fact that Justice Henry had cleared her calendar for that week of December 3rd to December 7th, so it was very disturbing to us why and who fixed matters to be heard,” Bacchus-Baptiste, an experienced lawyer said.
Bacchus-Baptiste noted that she and the other lawyers involved in the case, Carlos James, Richard Williams and Joseph Delves thought that it was sufficient that Justice Henry had explained the issue to them and they told her so, but she decided to recuse herself anyway.
“… Her concern was that members of the public can legitimately say, in a case that has such public interest, … [that she knew] beforehand that Mr Bollers was going to get sick and they were going to vacate the sittings and therefore she set down matters to be heard.
“… She referred to the well often cited case where the law justice said that justice must not only be done but seem to be done…that this can ruin her career that persons can legitimately claim that she vacated the trial that she knew beforehand that the trial was going to be vacated and that is why she set down matters for trial,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.
“Those two petitions filed by Lauron Baptiste and Ben Exeter are the two most important matters before the High Court for trial currently and since they have been filed, not only in St Vincent and the Grenadines but in the Eastern Caribbean because petition matters are highly significant. They are important, and they concern the right to free and fair elections; they concern the right to be able to vote by secret ballot and it is high public interest.
“The impact of having to adjourn those cases because a judge has been forced to recuse herself after waiting for three years to have those cases heard, I think have serious far reaching consequences for the administration of justice in St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.