Lawyer believes there is a plot to block hearing of petitions
Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, the lawyer for New Democratic Party (NDP) petitioners Lauron Baptiste and Ben Exeter is of the opinion that there is an orchestrated effort to prevent the election petitions from ever being heard.
The petitions, which challenge the results of the December 9, 2015 general elections in Central Leeward and North Windward constituencies, have been before the courts for three years.
The case hit another speed bump on Tuesday when Justice Esco Henry recused herself. The new dates set for the trial are in February 2019 and a new judge is to be appointed to deal with the petitions.
Further delaying the case is that Grahame Bollers, the lead counsel for the respondents Sir Louis Straker and Montgomery Daniel, last Friday presented medical certificates to the court which show that he is ill.
Justice Henry ordered that another lawyer take his place.
Speaking on Wednesday at the NDP Headquarters in Richmond Hill, Bacchus Baptiste said the NDP is concerned that someone at the Registrar’s office made a mistake that caused Henry to recuse herself, further delaying the trial.
“Our concern from the NDP is, who made those fixtures? 12 fixtures in a week when Justice Henry cleared her calendar. Why were they made? What was the motive behind it?
“Is there a gate keeper at the registry? This is a very serious matter and that is what the members of the public should be asking.”
Bacchus-Baptiste said that the impact on the hearing of the trial is not known as yet as another judge has to clear his or her calendar to hear the matters “expeditiously” as January 24, 2019 has been set for a status hearing.
“That judge will have to be up to date with the material or he or she will not be able to conduct a status hearing.
“Is it a timely intervention? Because even [with] the Bollers issue there are certain questions in my mind about that,” Bacchus-Baptiste stated.
She said she cannot question his health but while the medical report he presented to the High Court said he was given 30 days sick leave from November 27, he was seen in Kingstown on Tuesday.
“I have had communications from him, by letter signed by him, by telephone, by WhatsApp. Early Monday morning even before I even left home to come to court there was communication between us on a very difficult matter that we are both involved in,” Bacchus-Baptiste disclosed.
Bacchus-Baptiste said earlier in the case there were delays when lawyer for the respondents Anthony Astaphan fell ill.
“Then we had in July, we were invited to get a new date for the cases because Justice Henry said her schedule was too heavy…and a consent order was entered into to set the 3rd of December to the 7th December as the date for the cases to be heard and she cleared her calendar for that.
The NDP senator said she is of the opinion that the the case should be taken up in the wider Caribbean.
“We have an Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. We have an order from the Court of Appeal saying that these matters should be dealt with expeditiously and we have what I can only say is an attempt by the other side to frustrate our efforts to have our petitions heard.
“An orchestrated effort to frustrate this matter ever coming to justice,” the outspoken lawyer noted.
She said that if an election is called before the petitions are heard it would not be a good thing.
Bacchus-Baptiste alleged that the ballots used in the last general elections were illegally designed.
“We have evidence to show that!” she declared.
“Do we do that? Do we go back with illegal ballot boxes?” questioned Bacchus-Baptiste who said that the Organization of American States (OAS) has said bias was shown when the presiding officer refused to record objections made by the NDP.
“It is a very serious question for our democracy and for the freedom and for fair elections in SVG.
“So, we are not only fighting to have our petitions heard, we are faced with the issue of what will happen if Dr. Gonsalves calls elections tomorrow,” Bacchus-Baptiste stated.
Leader of the Opposition Dr. Godwin Friday said that the NDP’s commitment to the petitions will not wane.
He too questioned the delay and said the case was not just important for the country, but for the Caribbean.
Friday said the NDP would hold the court to the new trail dates.
“How is it that three years in we cannot have a trial of this matter?
“It is clearly not acceptable. This is not a case where you have a majority that one seat will not make a difference to the election,” Dr Friday stated while adding that the case questions the legitimacy of the government.
“I am very disappointed, the entire NDP is very disappointed with the further delay of the trial of the petitions.
“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,” stressed Dr. Friday.
Carlos James, who represents respondents Minister Montgomery Daniel and Minister Louis Straker however told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday that the respondents also want a final outcome in the matter.
“We want the matter to be completed in an expeditious manner. We understand the delays, the circumstances which led to several delays in this matter, but we want the matter to be dealt with expeditiously so that we can proceed to a final outcome of the substantive matter which is before the court,” James stated, shortly after Justice Henry had announced her decision to recuse herself.
No word has yet been given on who will replace her, but any of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) Justices may be appointed by the Chief Registrar who is located in St Lucia.