ST. VINCENT: – Lawyers for the claimant in the Luke Browne voter registration fraud case will appeal the judgement by Chief Magistrate Sonia Young, who ruled on Friday that an offence is not committed until an illegally registered voter actually votes.
Patricia Chance, a resident of East Kingstown, brought four private criminal complaints against Browne, who is running against New Democratic Party (NDP) president and Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace, in that constituency.
The Chief Magistrate dismissed the charges at the Serious Offences Court in Kingstown, sending supporters of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) in into a frenzy of celebration.
But Nicole Sylvester, who along with Kay Bacchus Brown, represented Chance in the matter, said that they will appeal the ruling and hope to create jurisprudence in the process.
They are further warning persons who might have registered illegally not to vote in the general elections on Monday, Dec. 13.
“…while I understand that the opposition to the matter that we had before the court …was that we are asking the bench to legislate, similarly, we did with Hughes and Spence and we had a confident outcome that we all follow,” Sylvester said.
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She was citing a case in which lawyers successful challenged the inhumanity of the mandatory death penalty in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
The lawyers’ arguments in the case were later endorsed by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the related appeals in St. Lucia and St. Kitts.
“…it takes individuals who are willing to test and to create jurisprudence and I see that this can become a jurisprudence issue for us here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. So, from that standpoint, I am quite confident in making the matter as an issue for our Court of Appeal to determine,” Sylvester said.
Sylvester said that her team disagrees with the Chief Magistrate that the charge is only made out when an illegally registered voter casts a ballot.
“So, basically, the charge under Section 51 [of the Representation of the People’s Act], in her judgement, is premature. One has to wait until the voting occurs then bring a charge. I am firmly of a different view,” Sylvester said.
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She further said that Section 2 of the same Act says a “A voter, in relation to any election, means any person whose name is for the time being on the appropriate register of voters to be used at that election.”
“Therefore, what they have been charged with is inducing or procuring a person, who is not qualified, to become that voter. And, therefore, we are saying that once they have done that, that is sufficient, the actus reas (“guilty act”) and the mens reas (“guilty mind”) gels and merges and that an offence is committed,” Sylvester said.
“But, be that as it may, a decision had been given and we certainly have decided that … we are going to appeal,” she added.
“But we feel heartened by the judgement in that what she (the Chief Justice) has indicated is that if you have engaged in an illegal practice and then you go to vote, you will be committing an offence.
“So, on that standpoint, all those who know that they have engaged in illegal practice, you are forewarned: If you go and vote it is now an offence. So, therefore, the warning is loud and clear: if you have engaged in an illegal practice, do not go and vote because if you go and vote, you will be committing an offence,” Sylvester said.
She further said that the complains brought by Chance has nothing to do with Eustace or the NDP, saying Chance is a constituent of East Kingstown “and was quite concerned by the illegal practices which she has witnessed and came forward and I comment her for her strength and courage.
“…and you would have noticed that — anyone who went to the court would have seen that — there wasn’t a presence of the New Democratic Party at the proceeding whatsoever. So, therefore, the only politics that has been brought into the issues it’s by the Unity Labour Party,” Sylvester said.