ST. VINCENT: – Luke Browne, the ruling Unity Labour Party’s (ULP) candidate for East Kingstown in Monday’s general elections will know at 10:30 a.m. today, Friday, Dec. 10, if he will be tried on four counts of election fraud.
Browne, who will come up against President of the New Democratic Party and Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, in the general elections, was released on EC$5,000 (US$1,852) bail when he appeared before the Serious Offences Court, in Kingstown, yesterday.
Prime Minister and political leader of the ULP, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, stood surety for the embattled politician, who is making his entry into electoral politics in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
NDP public relations officer and candidate for West St George, Vynnette Frederick, first accused Browne, 25, a national, and Rhode scholar, of the wrongdoings when they both were guests on a youth programme on Hitz FM on Nov. 25.
Lawyer representing Browne has since written to the Director of Public Prosecutions asking him to prosecute Frederick under an election law, which if she is convicted, can see her jailed and barred from contesting elections for five years.
The private complaints against Browne were brought by Patricia Chance, an employee at the NDP headquarters.
One count of election fraud was also brought against Grantley Williams, the chairman of Browne’s constituency division, and Afie Jack, respectively.
Williams was also released on EC$5,000 (US$1,852) bail and returns to court today while Jack, who was granted EC$2,000 (US$740) bail, will be tried in Feb. 2011.
Stephen Williams, one of Browne’s lawyers, speaking late Thursday on Star FM, the ULP’s radio station, gave a synopsis of what transpired during the much-publicised court appearance earlier that day.
“We went to court this morning, we made some submission in relations to the validity of the complaint that was made against Mr. Luke Browne. Basically, that it was not in conformity with the law that is in place at the time, which is the Representation of the People’s Act, Section 51. We made our arguments, the other side has responded and we have made a reply also,” Williams said.
“We are not going to discuss or prejudge what the magistrate is going to do tomorrow,” said Dominican Senior Counsel, Anthony Astaphan during the same radio programme.
“She is going to make a decision tomorrow at 10:30 but there is no conviction, there is no fine, there is nothing said or done today that was adverse to Luke Browne,” said Astaphan, who is also a lawyer for the ULP.
Astaphan, however, believes that the magistrate will rule in favour of their client.
“They don’t have evidence because there was no evidence provided to the Supervisor of Elections, there was no evidence provided to the Director of Public Prosecutions and none as part of the information to the magistrate as part of the complaint that was issued,” he said.
Scores of party ULP supporters, including Prime Minister Gonsalves, gathered outside the court house in support of the candidate, while Star FM broadcast live update of the proceedings.
Browne told reporters at a press conference Thursday afternoon that he has “every confidence in the court, in the system in St.
Vincent and I go forward with that confidence.
“I think what has happened with respect to me is the continuation of a campaign of intimidation that has been carried out by the New Democratic Party,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kay Bacchus-Browne, a lawyer for the complainant, Patricia Chance, told I Witness-News Friday morning that Browne’s lawyers on Thursday argued a preliminary legal point “that the offence we charge him for was not yet made out.
“This is a matter of interpreting the law. It has nothing to do with the evidence that we have to support our charge that Luke was registering persons in the constituency illegally,” Bacchus-Browne said.
“Their point is that until the person who registers votes, then the charge is not yet made out. … Our argument is that Section 51 [of the Representation of the People’ Act] is quite clear. It says that anybody who induces or procure anybody to register to vote illegally, they are guilty of an offence,” she further said.
“They are not challenging the evidence because we haven’t gotten to that stage,” Browne told I Witness-News, even as she dismissed as “lies and politics” reports that her legal team was not ready for the case and hence arrived in court late.
She said that both she and fellow lawyer Nicole Sylvester had matters in the High Court, which take precedence over the Magistrate’s Court.
“It is not that we were not ready; and, secondly, we were told quite clearly by the magistrate that yesterday was not a trial date. All we had to do yesterday was to come to set a date for the trial.”
Regarding criticism that the private complaints were filed against Browne rather than the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) being asked to look into the matter, Bacchus-Browne said, “There is no law for us to file a complaint with the DPP.
“The law is quite clear… If you are bringing a private criminal matter, the law says the matter must be sworn to before the magistrate, not the DPP.”
Bacchus-Browne further defended the claimant against accusations by the ULP that she was being used as a proxy for Eustace and Frederick, both of whom are high-ranking members of the NDP and live in East Kingstown.
“I do not know what issue that could be. It is a person who lives in East Kingstown constituency. She (the claimant) is a voter, who, under the Constitution, has a right to protect her right to vote and to protect a free and fair election.
Bacchus-Browne said that her team hopes that the magistrate rules that Browne has a case to answer.
“…as in most of the matter involving the other side, they seek to take points to prevent the matter being aired in court… So the outcome that we are expecting is that the matter will be aired in court and everybody will have a fair chance to defend themselves,” Bacchus-Browne said.
She, however, said, “It’s up to the magistrate what she thinks and if she does not agree with us, of course, we will appeal.”
Bacchus-Browne said that Richard Williams tried to persuade the magistrate to release Browne without bail, arguing that bail was not necessary.
“…they sought to have her vary what is the law so that Luke should not be put on bail,” Bacchus-Browne said.
She further said that that Browne’s lawyers went on radio and “put out absolute untruths
“… I have never seen anything like this… I am disappointed … and I cannot understand how you can tell an absolute untruth like that,’ she told I Witness-News.