Court of Appeal to answer questions on election petition

Anthony Astaphan (second from left) speaks to the press surrounded by SLP candidates.

The United Workers Party (UWP) has gotten past the first phase in their attempt to challenge the election results of 2011.
On Thursday 15th March, legal representatives for the government as well as the main opposition appeared for the second time before Justice Sandra Wilkinson in the High Court. On January 12th 2012, Judge Wilkinson had adjourned the matter at the request of attorneys representing the UWP.
Three petitions were originally filed against three SLP candidates and current ministers in the new administration but after the hearing on Thursday, only two petitions are now being filed. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rufus Bousquet did not show up for the court hearing and as a result his petition was withdrawn. The STAR contacted Mr Bousquet for a statement but he declined to comment.
Speaking with this reporter, lead attorney for the UWP, Dominican Reginald Armour, who practices in Trinidad, said the results of the hearing suggest a good sign for his client. Although he did not wish to comment on the withdrawal of Bousquet’s petition indicating that his clients only wished to go ahead with two petitions, he did not hesitate to explain the outcome of the court proceedings:
“The parties have agreed; both the petitioner’s attorneys and the respondents’ attorneys to refer to the court of appeal. The questions that have arisen on these two petitions of Mr Montoute and Mr Joseph are difficult questions of law that are peculiar to the jurisdiction of St Lucia,” said Armour.
He further explained that even before the court hears the case of the petition, a few questions need to be answered with reference to Election Petitions and rules regarding such petitions.
“We are happy to see that the respondents’ attorneys would appear to accept that; those questions have not as yet been determined by the courts which have sat on other election matters in the Caribbean and therefore, before the hearing of the petitions should start, we are asking the Court of Appeal to give us a decision on six questions we have put to the court of appeal.
“Essentially the question is: do the rules of the Supreme Court apply to Election Petition matters in St Lucia and if those rules apply, it will have certain consequences which we think will be very favourable to the petitioners.”
Amour indicated the judge’s agreement to refer the questions asked and said that both parties will now await the Court of Appeal to grant a date for the hearing. He said a request was made for an urgent hearing but “that would depend solely on the Court of Appeal and in any event after the Court of Appeal’s decision, we will return to the High Court to continue the hearing of the petitions. In the meantime, the hearing of the petitions is suspended.”
Meanwhile, lead attorney for the ruling SLP, Anthony Astaphan says he is happy that one petition was withdrawn and says this signals the beginning of victory for his clients.
“The petition against Mr Lorne Theophilus was dismissed by the Judge today in quite extraordinary circumstances because when the matter was called his entire legal team walked out, even those who are on record as solicitors for Mr Rufus Bousquet and of course he did not attend,” said Astaphan.
Also a Dominican lawyer, Astaphan expressed similar sentiments with the attorneys representing the UWP and says that such a decision to refer the matter to the Court of Appeal is a good move to ensure proper guidance is given by the Court of Appeal.
“We have agreed by consent because we think it’s the best approach to get the guidance of the Court of Appeal, so that when the matter comes back from the Court of Appeal, we can then decide on the way forward both with our applications to strike out the petition and whether or not the petitions can legitimately of properly continue.”
Astaphan further stated that there are complete and absolutely infringement of the law and “nullities should not be heard by the court at all and that’s in relation to Miss Hippolyte and Miss Reynolds.”
In a brief comment outside of the court, leader of the opposition, Stephenson King expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the first phase and says irrespective of the outcome of the matter, he believes this will strengthen the legal system of St Lucia.
“The law would now determine and be able to shape the way forward as far as elections are concerned and what constitutes some of the processes by which decisions take place . . . I believe in more than just being victorious at this stage, it is about the future development of law and the future development of the electoral system and process and making it airtight so that in future we may not have to contend with such situations,” said King.
The petitioners are Lenard Montoute, former parliamentary representative for Gros Islet who lost to SLP candidate Emma Hippolyte by seven votes and Ezekiel Joseph, former parliamentary representative for Babonneau who lost to SLP candidate Alvina Reynolds by two votes. The appeal process is said to be the second in the country’s political history. The first occurred in 1974 between Henry Giraudy and Bruce Williams and was not overturned.

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