The High Court is slated to begin today, Tuesday, a two-day sitting in which lawyers for the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) will make an application for permission to inspect ballot boxes and documents related to the December 2015 general election.
The application, which will be heard by Justice Esco Henry, is the latest development in the two petitions that the NDP has filed challenging the results of the 2015 poll.
The NDP is challenging the outcome in North Windward and Central Leeward, two of the eight constituencies that electoral officials say the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), led by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, won to secure a fourth consecutive term in office.
The application is the second that the NDP has filed seeking permission to inspect the ballot boxes.
The first such application, which was filed last year, was refused by Justice Brian Cottle as a fishing expedition.
In his ruling, Justice Cottle said that granting the NDP permission to examine the ballot boxes would betray the secrecy of the ballot.
The judge’s comments unsettled many voters since, an observer should not be able to tell merely by looking at a ballot, after the fact, the identity of the voter who marked that particular ballot.
In June 2016, Justice Cottle went on to throw out the application as improperly filed.
However, in March 2017, the Court of Appeal overturned his decision, ruling that he showed apparent bias in his decision.
The Court of Appeal also remitted the petitions back to the High Court for hearing before a different judge.
In May, the new judge, Justice Esco Henry, denied an application by the respondents that the petitions should be thrown out as improperly filed.
Her ruling meant that the petitions could proceed to hearing.
The NDP’s legal team, which is led by Vincentian Queen’s Counsel, Stanley “Stalky” John, filed in July another application to inspect the ballot boxes.
But hearing in the matter was adjourned for the new law term, which began in September.
Ahead of the adjournment, Justice Henry also gave a six-point order outlining actions that the parties must take and their timelines.
Ben Exeter, who was the NDP’s candidate in Central Leeward in the 2015 general elections, has filed a petition challenging the outcome of the elections there.
That seat was declared won by the ULP’s Sir Louis Straker.
Exeter’s colleague, Lauron Baptiste, the NDP’s candidate in North Windward, has mounted a similar challenge in that district.
Electoral officials say that the ULP’s Montgomery Daniel secured a fourth consecutive term as Member of Parliament for that area.
When the motion to inspect the ballot boxes and other election documents came up for hearing in July, there was a long delay to allow for three foreign lawyers who have joined the government’s team to be called to the Vincentian Bar.
After they were seated — the court having processed their documents, which the judge noted were “hurriedly filed” — Senior Counsel Douglas Mendez of Trinidad and Tobago, who in July took over from Dominican Anthony Astaphan, SC as lead counsel for the respondents, asked for an adjournment.
He said he was requesting an adjournment, hopefully, to give the respondents an opportunity to file affidavits in response to the petitioners’ request to inspect the election documents.