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Counsel for Respondents asks for postponement of petitions case because of sick lead

Counsel for Respondents asks for postponement of petitions case because of sick lead
(Left) Carlos James (Right) Kay Bacchus-Baptiste

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The Applicants in the 2015 general election petitions case are gunning for trial to start next week, but the red light of sickness will be signaled in court today, as a lead counsel for the Respondents is on medical leave.

Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, one of the attorneys for petitioners Lauron Baptiste and Benjamin Exeter, candidates of the New Democratic Party (NDP), said on radio this week that an application had been made on Tuesday for the proceedings to be delayed.

She said that the application had been made by attorney Carlos James, who acts in conjunction with Grahame Bollers as attorneys for respondents, elected representatives for the North Windward and Central Leeward constituencies, Montgomery Daniel, and Sir Louis Straker respectively, of the Unity Labour Party(ULP).

James told SEARCHLIGHT that he made a Notice of Motion for the dates of December 3 to 7 to be vacated given the fact that his co-counsel, Bollers, is ill.

Yesterday, after a hearing in Chambers, James said it was decided that Justice Esco Henry will hear submissions regarding the Notice of Motion today, Friday.

Earlier this week, before it was decided that the Notice of Motion would be heard today, Bacchus-Baptiste insisted, “This means that our trial of the petition continues, it has been set for Monday, and the court is coming on Monday, prepared to, and all of us will be coming on Monday prepared to try our petitions which were filed since the 31st of December, 2015.”

She had indicated also that counsel for the Petitioners will be sure to object to the application to postpone the trial.

“We would be objecting, as a matter of fact, to their application to vacate the trial. It is not meritorious, not on the ground alone that Mr Bollers is ill. There are six other competent lawyers acting for the respondents, and so in our mind Mr Bollers’ illness is not sufficient to vacate the trial,” Bacchus-Baptiste expounded.

Otherwise, normal procedure in preparation for the trial has been ongoing.

Counsel for Respondents asks for postponement of petitions case because of sick lead
Lead counsel for the Respondents Grahame Bollers

Justice Henry, who is the high court judge hearing the petitions, delivered a decision on November 13, 2018 regarding which portions of the witness statements submitted by Petitioners should be struck out.

The Respondents had made an application that certain parts of the statements were not contained in the petitions, which outline the Petitioners’ specific allegations of what transpired on election day, December 9, 2015.

The Respondents further indicated that some statements were hearsay, or that they contain inadmissible opinion evidence.

Justice Henry regarded that some of the statements queried were admissible, and some were not, and declared that the ratio was nearly even, thereby making no order for one party to pay costs to the court.

For example, one of the portions of a witness statement said “she (one of the presiding officers) held it (the ballot) in such a way that the vote was exposed and she could see who the voter voted for,”; “I observed that she will peek at the vote of persons who were not a well-known ULP or NDP,” and it mentioned a specific name of a person who was upset that a vote had been looked at.

The judge held that this was linked to the substance of the petitions, which allege “The 2nd Respondent deliberately breached the secrecy of the ballot by opening the ballot paper as voters returned them to her before depositing them in the ballot box,” and therefore that those paragraphs were admissible.

On the other side, a statement which said that the presiding officer was pre-stamping the ballot papers in the book before voting, and gave voters ballot papers that were pre-stamped, was struck out. The judge explained that this was because the petitions allege that the ballots were pre-stamped before they were given to the presiding officer, and not afterwards. (Read the full decision at https://www.eccourts.org/lauron-baptiste-and-benjamin-exeter-v-vil-davis-and-winston-gaymes-et-al/)

Additionally, on November 27, Henry dismissed an application by the Petitioners for specific disclosure of certain election documents. (see full story below)

Henry is the second judge to hear the petitions, as Justice Brian Cottle delivered a decision in 2016 that the petitions should be thrown out because they were not filed correctly. However, following this, the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court reversed the decision, upholding the appeal by the NDP that statements made by Justice Cottle had the appearance of alleged bias.

Baptiste and Exeter filed petitions contesting the results of the 2015 general elections in the North Windward and Central Leeward constituencies respectively on December 31, 2015.

The petitions claim that serious irregularities occurred during the elections and called for an order of the court which would make the results void in the North Windward and Central Leeward constituencies.

Besides Daniel and Straker, other respondents in the trial include the Attorney General, the Supervisor of elections Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb, returning officers Vil Davis and Winston Gaymes, and presiding officers Veronica John and Kathleen Jeffers.

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