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NDP members file 10 private criminal complaints in Court


Three members of the New Democratic Party (NDP) have filed 10 private criminal complaints in the Serious Offences Court against four members of the governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) for comments allegedly made in the run up to the December 13 General Elections.{{more}}

Nigel Stephenson, the NDP elected member for South Leeward, Opposition Senator Vynnette Frederick and Dr Linton Lewis, the unsuccessful candidate in East St George, on Tuesday, January 11, all filed complaints against Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, ULP Senator Dr Douglas Slater, and Ministers Cecil McKie and Clayton Burgin.

Four complaints have been filed against Burgin by Lewis for statements allegedly made on November 14 and 23, 2010; Stephenson has filed two against Slater for comments he allegedly made on November 26, 2010, and Frederick has a filed a total of four, two each against PM Gonsalves and McKie.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, January 12, Nicole Sylvester, a member of the NDP’s legal team, explained that the private complaints were related to defamatory comments made against the NDP members.

“I am sure that you’ve been used to a climate within recent times where on the campaign trail people say whatever they want and sometimes they say things that are defamatory,” Sylvester said.

Sylvester stated that Section 51 subsection 3 of the Representation of the People Act specifically addresses this issue, protecting persons who are seeking public office from being open to “slander” and “unlawful and untrue comments.”

According to Section 51.3, any person who before or during an election for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate or prospective candidate makes or publishes false statements in fact in relation to the character or conduct of such candidate, is guilty of an illegal practice and liable to a fine of $750 and to imprisonment of one year.

The Act says a person convicted for this offense shall for five years from the date of conviction be incapable of being registered as a voter, voting in an election or being elected or appointed as a Member of the House of Assembly. Additionally, if the person who has been convicted was elected or appointed before his conviction, he cannot retain his seat as a Member of the House.

“The significance of this is that 10 complaints have been filed because looking at the statements, without looking at any of the details one can come to a firm conclusion and feel that the case is very strong.”

“It’s a mischief and we need after this to ensure that when individuals go out to serve the public that they ensure they maintain standards,” Sylvester continued.

She added that she was sure that after this case that there would be a lifting of the current standard of politics in this country.

“There can no longer be character assassination, no longer be gutter type of politics that we have gotten used to and that we think is acceptable,” Sylvester said.

Kay Bacchus-Browne, member of the NDP’s legal team, added that the political party was committed to free and fair elections.

“If the ULP or any other political party engages in any illegal practice that cannot be regarded as free and fair elections,” Browne said.

“Certain statements were made by members of the ULP and we believe and are convinced that they are contrary to the Representation of the People Act,” she further stated.

She did, however, state that she was contacted by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Colin Williams, who by way of a letter dated January 11 indicated that he had been informed that five private complaints had been filed at the Serious Offences Court, but that none were lodged with the police or any other state agency.

Complied with DPP’s request

Browne read further from the letter where the DPP indicated to her and her legal colleague that no one contacted his office in relation to the matter and that “no fiat was sought and none was obtained to proceed with any matter.”

The legal counsel said that they complied with DPP’s request to have copies of the complaints sent to his office and responded to the DPP by letter to correct him that in fact 10 private complaints had been filed and that they were brought by candidates from the last General Elections.

The lawyers’ letter further indicated that contrary to the claim made by the DPP, under Section 69 Cap 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, “relative to conducting of a private prosecution there is no prerequisite for a fiat before filing complaints.”

Browne further said that according to Section 70 of the said Code, any person who believes from reasonable and probable cause that an offense has been committed can make a complaint to the magistrate.

The motion can only be discontinued if the action is deemed “frivolous or vexatious” or an “abuse of the process of the court,” under Section 71, Browne explained.

“There is no mention of a fiat or lodging complaints with DPP because you are going to hear that we didn’t go to the police or DPP and therefore they have a right to takeover and discontinue,” she warned.

“We are prepared to fight this to the highest court authority on all fronts. We are not going to give up on this one,” Browne declared.

Browne noted that it was now for the magistrate to issue summons to the accused, but she was unable to ascertain whether or not this had been done.

SEARCHLIGHT was able to confirm late on Wednesday that the magistrate issued summons in only six of the 10 complaints, ruling that four of them were “frivolous and vexatious”.

The four complaints for which summons were not issued were the two brought against Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves by Vynnette Frederick for a statement made on August 29, 2010, and two of the four filed by Dr. Linton Lewis against Clayton Burgin. The statement for which no summons was issued to Burgin was made on November 14, 2010.

There are two charges related to each statement complained: one for making a false statement and the other for publishing a false statement.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said that the action fitted in neatly with the NDP’s plan of doing all in its power to legally shorten the life of the ULP led government.

“In 1998, we had a similar situation with a one seat majority…today’s situation is quite similar,” Eustace said.

“In those days, there were a lot of calls to make the country ungovernable, we are not calling to make the country ungovernable.”

“I recall just last week in the newspapers they were rejoicing that there were no election petitions and that’s evidence for some people that all is well, but all is not well,” the Opposition Leader contended.

He added that the NDP had a few concerns coming out of the last elections and that within the last few weeks, the party’s lawyers had been working very hard.

“What we see is the result of their labour on behalf of this party and this country,” Eustace said.

“I said at a rally at the end of the elections that we will keep the fire burning at the feet of this government, and we are adding some matches to this fire.”