KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – The High Court will on Nov. 30 hear arguments regarding whether Chief Magistrate Sonia Young should have summoned Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves to come to court to answer charges that could see him disqualified from Parliament for five years.
Further, the respondent, Chief Magistrate Sonya Young, has been ordered to pay EC$5,000 in cost in the case relating to private criminal complaints against Gonsalves by Vynnette Frederick of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), who failed to win the West St. George seat in the Dec. 13, 2010 general elections.
Frederick’s lawyers are arguing that Gonsalves made suggestions about their client’s sexual orientation that affected her returns in the election.
“Ah mean, Bayliss would be a very unfortunate fellow if he send a daughter to study law, and came back and get a son, … a tomboy,” Gonsalves is quoted as saying of Frederick’s father.
“The fact that a statement of fact is stated in the form of a rumour does not prevent it from being a fact,” High Court judge Justice Gertel Thom wrote in her 45-page judgement handed down on Tuesday.
The judge wrote, “… the context in which he was using ‘tomboy’ was not simply a ‘tomboy’, but a male. That the ordinary and reasonable person in the constituency would find the statement to mean that Ms. Frederick left to study a female and she returned a male.”
“It could be successfully argued that a statement that a woman is a male related to her sexual orientation, and that a statement relating to a person’s sexual orientation, their sexuality, related to the person’s personal character or conduct. It relates to moral conduct,” the judge further wrote.
“In the circumstances of this case, I find that Ms. Frederick has an arguable case with a realistic prospect of success that the Chief Magistrate misdirected herself in finding that two of the essential ingredients of the offence were not prima facie present. I find there is no reason to set aside the order granting leave,” the judgement further said.
“It is not disputed that the statement was an oral statement made a political meeting. As slated earlier in determining the meaning it is necessary to consider what the words used would mean to the ordinary reasonable person in the constituency who listened to the address,” the judgement stated.
The Chief Magistrate, in explaining her decision to refuse to issue the summon, had said that Gonsalves’ statement was not a representation of fact, that expression of opinions are inherently falsifiable ergo the statement could not be proven to be true or false. The Chief Magistrate had further said that Gonsalves’ statement did not amount to an attack on the personal character of conduct of the informant.
On Jan. 11, Frederick, a lawyer, filed two private criminal complaints under Section 51(3) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) at the Magistrate’s Court. The following day, the Chief Magistrate issued a certificate of refusal to both complaints.
At the request of Frederick’s attorney on Jan. 17, the Chief Magistrate gave reasons for her decision not to issues the summonses.
High Court Judge Justice Bruce-Lye on March 17 granted Frederick leave to seek judicial review of the Chief magistrate’s decision. Frederick on May 13 filed Fixed Date Claims seeking judicial review and on June 16 filed an application to strike out the Chief magistrate’s application on the ground that the application was not made within the stipulated time.
If the judge rules on Nov. 30 that the Chief Magistrate should have issued the summons and the DPP does not take over and discontinue the charges, Gonsalves, a lawyer, will have to answer the charge and face a possible automatic disqualification from Parliament for five years.
Keith Scotland, Kay Bacchus-Browne and Nicole Sylvester appeared for Frederick while Anthony Astaphan, Richard Williams and Grahame Bollers appeared for Gonsalves.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story said that Gonsalves was to pay cost to Frederick. The story has been updated to correct that inaccuracy.