Political parties await Appeal Court decision on Election Petition

The OECS Court of Appeal on Thursday heard the submissions by both parties in the Election Petition matter. Hearing of three election petitions challenging the results in originally three constituencies, namely Babonneau, Choiseul and Gros Islet started in St Lucia in March with the High Court striking out one and the two others postponed pending clarification by the OECS Court of Appeal.
The defeated candidates of the main opposition United Workers Party (UWP) are challenging the results of the November 28 general elections last year, where in one instance, the margin of victory was very slim.
The party is challenging the results in town of Gros Islet where the difference between the candidates was seven votes and in the Babonneau constituency, where the St. Lucia Labour Party (SLP) candidate won by one vote.
The petitioners want the Court of Appeal to respond to questions of law related to the rules for elections to Parliament. The other petition was disallowed because of the non-appearance of former foreign affairs minister Rufus Bousquet who lost his seat Choiseul seat by 50 votes.
Bousquet, who was defeated by the SLP’s Lorne Theophilius had publically expressed disinterest in the court petition filed on his behalf by the party.
When the matter began on Thursday, Leading Council for the petitioners, Reginald Armour submitted his argument to the Court. Armour argued that the Civil Procedural Rules (CPR) makes provision for the court to allow a petitioner in some cases where they were unable to meet the 21 day deadline for filing a petition.
According to the Elections Act of St Lucia, Section 89.1.a: “the petition shall be presented within 21 days after the return made by the returning officer of the member to whose election the petition relates . . .” But new light in the case reveals that the petitioners had not met all the requirements for filing their petition within the 21 day rule.
Armour, who spoke with the STAR says the arguments before the Court of Appeal will determine whether the matter will continue in the High Court or not. He says there were questions of law which they needed to resolve in order to allow the matter to proceed in the High Court.
“I am very satisfied with my submission today and I think that they were very full submissions. I think the Court of Appeal has a very challenging task on hand and we look forward to a very favourable decision,” said Armour.
Meanwhile, Lead Council for the Respondents, Anthony Astaphan argued that although the petitions were filed, a technical matter still existed where the petitioners failed to sign their petitions. He further argued that the CPR does not make provision for such technicality and the court cannot change its laws to accommodate a technical error on the part of the petitioners namely, Lenard Montoute and Ezekiel Joseph.
“We were basically saying that this was an exclusive procedure and exclusive regime and that there is no need to bring in the Civil Procedural Rule because that would fundamentally undermine the intention of Parliament and there is nothing unconstitutional in the rules and regulations to govern access to the Court,” said Astaphan.
The Dominican lawyer who took less time to submit his argument than his counterpart says he was very much satisfied with his submission.
“I am very happy with my submission—it’s a fight I’ve had repeatedly around the islands and usually against Trinidadian lawyers, so we will see how that goes.”
Astaphan says he is confident the Court will rule in his favour this time around.
Chief Justice Hugh Rawlins, Justice Davidson Baptiste and Justice Janice Pereira will have the task of reviewing the submissions made by both parties with a decision expected to come through in the next few days, possibly weeks.
Before the hearing ended, Rawlins advised lawyers in such cases to gather all of their information, not just after election but rather before and during the election process to prevent any issues that may cause petitioners to go beyond the 21 day deadline.
Rawlins made this comment against the background of sitting through many Election Petition Hearings which have had similar issues as is the case in St Lucia. The hearing ended at approximately 6:45pm.

Lawyer Anthony Astaphan

Lawyer Reginald Armour

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