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NDP election petitions back to square one

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The elections petitions filed by the New Democratic Party (NDP) of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and the motion by the respondents to have them struck out have been reinstated by the Appeals Court.

At a sitting of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) on Tuesday, March 7 in St Lucia, justices Gertel Thom, Mario Michel and Davidson Baptiste ruled that there was the appearance of bias on the part of High Court judge Brian Cottle, who had ruled in June 2016 that the petitions be struck out.

On April 4, 2016, in a written judgement, Cottle ruled that it would be 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 would 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,” Cottle said in April, 2016.

It is this statement by Cottle that the application to strike out “is bound to succeed” which the Appeals Court agreed had the appearance of bias.

When the applications to have the petitions struck out were argued before the High Court, Cottle did indeed strike them out on June 23, 2016. In his judgment, Cottle said the petitioners were obligated to provide sureties and this was not done.

The Appeals Court also awarded costs to the petitions both in the Appeal and in the Lower Court. The costs are to be assessed by the parties.

The election petitions and the motion to have them struck out must now be heard before another High Court judge in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

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.

The lawyers who appeared for the petitioners in St Lucia were Stanley John QC, Keith Scotland, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, Maia Eustace and Zhinga Horne-Edwards, while the lawyers for the respondents were Anthony Astaphan SC, Richard Williams, Grahame Bollers and Carlos James.

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