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High Court to rule on application by churches to join state in defending anti-buggery laws

High Court to rule on application by churches to join state in  defending anti-buggery laws
Javin Johnson and Sean McLeish

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by Katherine Renton

Next Wednesday, the High Court will rule whether 10 churches may join with the state in defending St Vincent and the Grenadines’ anti-buggery laws, and if they do, what role they will play.

Ten churches from the wider body called the Christian Coalition which comprises 100 churches, had already announced their decision last week to join the proceedings which are examining legal challenges filed by claimants, Sean MacLeish and Javin Vinc Johnson.

These claimants are openly gay Vincentians, living in the United States and the United Kingdom respectively, who claim that their fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution are being violated by the anti-buggery laws of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

However, although the churches have already announced their intention, it is for Justice Esco Henry who is presiding over the matter, to decide whether the 10 churches may join.

This Wednesday, November 13, she heard arguments from lawyer Meisha Cruickshank, one of churches’ representatives.

Interested parties such as attorney Mandela Peters who represents the Christian Coalition along with Cruickshank, and pastors Terrance Haynes of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and Dr Cecil Richards from the Kingstown Baptist Church were also present.

The Office of the Attorney General (the respondents in the matter) had sent a contingent of lawyers as well, including lawyers Karen Duncan-Gonsalves, Cerepha Harper-Joseph, and Kezron Walters.

Claimant MacLeish was represented by attorney Jomo Thomas, while counsel Shirlan ‘Zita’ Barnwell appeared for Johnson.

After all those involved in the proceedings had taken their seats in the small courtroom there was no room left for journalists. However, SEARCHLIGHT was able to speak with Cruickshank, who explained that their application is based on the Civil Procedure Rules which guides the court’s actions.

Cruickshank stated that part 56.13 of these rules provide “that any person who has sufficient interest in an administrative matter can make an application to the court to be added as a party in the proceedings.”

“…This is usually used when issues of public interest are being discussed. So generally in law we say that any matter that is constitutional in nature is a public interest matter,” she explained.

“We say that we have sufficient interest in this matter because the matter is one that touches and concerns the practices, belief and lifestyle of the members that the 10 churches represent,” she continued, noting that it is a public morality issue which affects all citizens of SVG.

Finally, the churches also believe it to be a public health issue which affects all citizens of SVG.

There have been similar challenges filed in Belize and Trinidad to the laws there, and there is a case ongoing in Jamaica, the lawyer noted.

“In all three jurisdictions the churches, and other NGOs made applications to the court to be added as interested parties and in all three jurisdictions the applications were granted. So I believe we have a good chance,” she clarified.

On the other side, attorney Jomo Thomas, who was contacted yesterday, indicated that the churches want to participate in the proceedings in full, which means they want to make oral representations, and submit legal arguments and so on.

“We argued that in keeping with the civil procedure rules, particularly part 19, they (the churches) did not have standing as a party to the claim, and therefore could not get in through that rule, and we thought that they laboured under that misapprehension that they could have gotten in under part 19,” he stated.

He said that the churches may get into the proceedings through rule 56.13, but this limits them to submitting only one brief throughout the matter. This brief will be considered by the court when it makes its final decision.

The lawyer commented, though, that he is not certain what legal arguments they will be able to make. This is considering the “overwhelming” body of legal decisions that state that when a statute is in force “and it collides with the constitutional provisions of a fundamental right, in this case for example freedom of expression, freedom of privacy, the right to dignity… that where that statutory provision stands in violation to those constitutionally protected rights then the statute has to give way.”

Thomas stated he believes that in the regional cases, in Belize, the church was allowed to join fully “but even then, the court gave short shrift to the moralistic, religious argument.”

In the Jones case out of Trinidad, the lawyer believes the religious group was limited to a written brief.

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