From left: Respondents to the petitions, Member of Parliament for Central Leeward, Sir Louis Straker, Supervisor of Elections, Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb and Member of Parliament for North Windward, Montgomery Daniel, leave the court after Tuesday’s ruling. (iWN photo)

The two petitions challenging the results of the 2015 elections will go to trial, but without the benefit — at least for now — of information garnered from examining the ballot boxes used in Central Leeward.

On Tuesday, High Court judge, Justice Esco Henry dismissed an application by Ben Exeter to be allowed to inspect the ballots used in Central Leeward.

Henry ruled that the application was similar to one that Justice Brian Cottle dismissed in 2015, and was, therefore, an abuse of the court’s process.

She suggested that the petitioners could have appealed Cottle’s decision.

However, Cottle’s decision had been handed down a day or two before the expiration of the time that the law allows for the filing of election petitions.

Henry also ordered that Exeter pay cost to the respondents, Presiding Officer Kathleen Jeffers, Deputy Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for Central Leeward, Sir Louis Straker, and Supervisor of Elections, Sylvia Findlay Scrubb.

The judge also ruled that the Registrar of the High Court, in consultation with the parties, must fix a date for case management and trial and issue notices of hearing.

She adjourned the hearing of the election petitions to a date to be fixed by the registrar, in consultation with the parties.

Lawyers for Exeter, who was the main opposition New Democratic Party’s candidate for Central Leeward in the 2015 general election, had asked the court in December to allow their client to inspect the ballot boxes.

Electoral officials say that Sir Louis, of the ruling Unity Labour Party, won the vote in Central Leeward.

However, Exeter file a petition challenging the result, and in the motion to inspect the ballots boxes, argued in December that the design of the ballots contravened the election rules.

Exeter’s legal team argued that as a result of the alleged flawed design, the presiding officer handled the ballots improperly, and invalidated them by omitting to endorse the official mark and/or by the official mark appearing on them in such a manner that over 90 per cent of the ballot could not be folded so that the initials of the presiding officer and the official mark can be seen without opening them, as required under the Rules.

The judge, however, said that the second motion, which was filed last July, was similar to the one filed in 2015.

She further ruled that although it had information not contained in the first motion, Exeter was in possession of that evidence when the first motion was filed.

NDP lawyers ‘we accept the ruling’

Stanley “Stalky” John QC. (IWN file photo)

Queen’s Counsel Stanley “Stalky” John, who heads the petitioner’s legal team, in an immediate reaction to the judgement, told reporters outside of the court, his understanding of the ruling.

“The bottom line is that the judge is saying that given that another judge, who is a High Court judge, heard an application for inspection of the ballots, that she, properly, cannot now overrule that decision,” John said.

He said that he was satisfied that the arguments he put forward during the two days of hearing in December were sound, adding that nothing in the judgement said otherwise.

“The critical issue is this: the issues concerning why there should be inspection, according to the judge, could have all be dealt with or are all covered by the application made before the petition was filed.

“Now, we may have other views on that but we accept the ruling of the judge going forward. This matter is not appealable because it is an interlocutory hearing. So we must go forward on the basis of the ruling that was made by the judge towards the trial,” John told reporters.

He said that his legal team would have to access the extent to which the decision impacts the merits of the case, noting that the judge was not in a position to read the judgement in full to the court on Tuesday.

“So, until such time as we have had an opportunity to read the judgement in full and assess the reasoning in the judgement, we won’t be able to say exactly to what extent it impacts on the merits of the case at the trial. But the judge felt that her hands were tied because of the decision, which was made before.

“And we know, of course, that this case has a long history. Not only has there been pronouncements, by the High Court, there has also been a pronouncement by the Court of Appeal in relation to the manner in which it has been progressing.”

The petition were given a new lease on life when the Court of Appeal ruled last March that Cottle had shown apparent bias in his decision to dismiss the petitions as improperly filed.

The appellate court also reverted the petition to the High Court to be heard expeditiously, by a different judge, and Henry was assigned the case.

“So we will see what happens when the trial takes place because it is always open to the court, based on the evidence, based on the pleadings, to determine whether or not it wishes to look at the ballots or the counterfoils or to open the counterfoils. So this is not the end, as it were,” John said.

He noted that the judge’s ruling on Tuesday referred to what he said was “the acknowledgments in sworn statement by the election officer that hundreds of ballots were counted that ought not to have been counted.

“So it is not a situation where the judge is finding that nothing went wrong with the election. The judge is saying that another judge has pronounced on the question of whether or not there should be inspection and that in those circumstances she does not think it is proper for her to deal with the same issues again.”

Gov’t ‘very confident’

Lawyer Grahame Bollers speaks to the media after Tuesday’s ruling. (iWN photo)

Graham Bollers, a lawyer for the respondent, also welcomed the court ruling.

“We are looking forward to the release of the judgement so we can peruse it. The judgement validates all our arguments that we posed before the judge,” Bollers said.

The respondents had last year agreed Exeter inspecting four of the ballot boxes used in Central Leeward, if the court so allowed.

However, Exeter’s legal team rejected the offer, choosing instead to seek the court’s permission to inspect all the ballot boxes.

Bollers was also confident that his clients will ultimately win when the trial of the petition is complete.

“Very confident,” he said when asked about how convinced he was that the legal arguments are on his clients’ side.

“We are pleased with the results today,” he said.

Sir Louis ‘somewhat relieved’

Member of Parliament for Central Leeward, Sir Louis Straker, left, and MP for North Windward, Montgomery Daniel, outside the court after the ruling. (iWN photo)

And Sir Louis said he felt “somewhat relieved” by the judgment.

“I think it is very difficult to disenfranchise the people of Central Leeward, have what they did on December the 9th [2015] come to nought. I think the judge has ruled, we have to accept her ruling.”

Straker said that it has to be borne in mind that he has contested five elections, three of which were conducted under the NDP administration.

“I have no question in my mind that the people of Central Leeward have spoken through the ballots. As [former prime minister and NDP founder] Sir James Mitchell said, you cannot win an election in court. You have to win it at the ballot boxes, and I am confident that what the people of Central Leeward have done on the 9th of December 2015 remains valid and will continue to remain valid to the end of the term that they have elected me for.”

Told by iWitness News, “So in essence, you are confident that you will win the petitions?”, Sir Louis, who had earlier ignored another of our questions, walked away without answering.

The NDP has also filed a petition challenging the results in North Windward, which electoral officials say was won the ULP’s Montgomery Daniel, who was returned for a fourth consecutive term.

The ULP secured a fourth consecutive term in office by taking eight of the 15 parliamentary seats, electoral officials said.

NDP still ‘very confident’

NDP supporters and other person in the street across from the courthouse after Tuesday’s ruling. (iWN photo)

And Leader of the opposition and President of the NDP, Godwin Friday said that his party has full confidence in its legal team.

“We have had setbacks and we have had triumphs. This is how litigation proceeds and we are determined to proceed on the basis of the ruling that we have had today and on the evidence and the preparation we have done.”

He said that when the full judgement is received, the NDP will take into account how that affect the petitions going forward.

“But the petitions go forward and we will make the case the strongest way, the best way we can, based on the ruling that we had today and what we know already.”

“The court did say that Exeter had in his possession certain evidence so we will have to make an assessment as to how it affects the argument going forward. But go forward we will.

“It is very important for the people of this country to know how the elections were conducted. So, of course, we would want to have a determination completely on its merits.”

The opposition said that the petitioners would present the best evidence that they have at their disposal.

“Election petitions, the way in which the law has evolved, is extremely difficult to get the sort of information in the timeframe provided and to perfect the application, to fill every gap …, cross every T and dot every I.

“I think we have done an extremely good job on the part of our petitioners and our counsel to bring the best case that we can on behalf of the people of this country.

“We know that the election petitions have merit because of the nature of how the ballot boxes were designed. There are questions as to how you actually prosecute in the court. The court has made a ruling today, we will assess and well will come again because we have done so in the past, and we will continue to do so. We are very confident about that,” the opposition leader said.

23 replies on “Court dismisses application to inspect ballot boxes”

  1. The NDP staying out of Parliament is surely not the answer in displaying the capability of any opposition. The trial is yet to happen and therefore, have given the opposition the opportunity to revisit whatever are their strategies for Trial. In the meantime, they need to put more effort in participating in Parliamentary debates on behalf of the people and stop boycotting.

  2. Next stop, the cases being thrown out.

    Let’s see the NDP spin this and have gullible Vincentians convinced that in this case justice did not occur (a different sentiment shared after the COA ruling.) Remember then, we all had faith in the judicial process.

    Or better yet, knowing costs will be further attached, will they appeal?

    The plot continues…..

    1. I really hope that NDP’s legal team really do the right thing in this matter. Any appeal on this issue is mute. However, I am quite sure that the spin doctors will find some way to spin this to give false hope to a few.

      I truly hope that the court gives the earliest possible date to have this issue fully ventilated in court and rest it ONCE AND FOR ALL. The country needs to move forward………..

  3. So, tell me why it took so long to reach such a straightforward decision?

    At this pace, the final decision, based on appeals by both sides whatever happens, first to the Court of Appeal and then to the Privy Council in England, would not happen before the next election that must take place before the end of 2020!

    Meanwhile, an equally complicated and very similar electoral matter in the United States in the 2000 presidential election contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush took only a few days to be decided by the Supreme Court (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_v._Gore ).

    If the same set of electoral issues ever occurred in Great Britain, the home of our constitution and many of our laws, it would have also been disposed of in a few days or weeks.

    What a sh**hole part of the world we live in with sh**hole justices and sh**hole lawyers!

  4. The ndp case has severely weakened, with the ballots the case would fall by the wayside. The ultimate decision mow is to abandon the case before it cost an arm and a leg.

  5. Is Friday’s leadership style a continuation of Eustace’s style of leadership? I’m hoping dearly it isn’t.Not the formula to win..personally I think Leacock would have been more suitable for the position of leader..Friday, go represent we in the house and stop pussyfooting!

  6. NDP politicians are like headless chickens running around in circles smh .. I’m gonna say it again that this party needs to be desolve and form a new party with bright fresh faces and brilliant minds plus innovative thinking. Also competent individuals to lead our country

  7. The mistake they made was three years ago when they failed to STAY the results of the elections pending the results of an emergency motion to recount or inspect. Of which they would have had to show evidence or just cause . At this point the matter is no longer and emergency for expedite because a government is already in place and the country is functioning so thus the judges are going to drag their feet with this matter and will eventually throw out this frivolous case of soar loosers lol.

  8. Although it is obvious that the ULP cheated to win the election, C. ben is right that it took so long to make a determination on the ballot boxes. I believe it is all a part of the ULP agenda to delay, delay, delay more so than it is about our also obvious incompetent vote-validation and “just us” system. At the rate things are going, they will have a verdict on the Election Petitions somewhere around the year 2050. The entire time the “Stalin Method” will be apparent when “The Comrade” “Papa” Stalin said:
    “It matters not how the people vote…what matters is who counts the vote.”
    In this case and with this ruling, baring a total landslide, the ULP will stay in power until the end of time, since the opposition will never have the right to “physically” and “time sensitively” contest an election.

  9. I have always been convinced that this case was all about the NDP keeping their base energized, nothing more, nothing less.

    How else could they explain to their followers four losses in a row except to claim that the ULP stole the election?

    Otherwise they would have to admit that the ULP ran a better compaign (including vote buying which both parties engage in), have better policies, or are doing a good job governing.

    If the NDP loses again, it should dissolve itself and allow a new party with new people to emerge.

    The same holds for Grenada.

  10. I heard Friday on Nice Radio yesterday opining that an NDP government would avoid all the glitzy ULP projects aimed at impressing the electorate rather than actually creating lots of jobs. His government would be different: it would actually support and fund projects and programmes which would deliver thousands of new jobs!

    If an NDP in power follows through on this promise, it would only serve one term.

    Why? Because massive job creation is not in the cards in a country which has shown so little potential for large-scale job creation since the beginning of the 20th century largely rooted in the slow but steady decline in sugar production, the only mass employer of labour we have ever had.

    We simply do not have the resources — human or material — to create thousands of new, high-paying jobs.

    All knowledgeable people, in and out of politics, know this, but are forced to preach otherwise, especially when they choose politics as a career.

    If our job prospects are so good, why has our population been stagnant or growing very slowly for decades despite a robust reproductive rate and declining infant mortality? The reason is the mass migration of unemployed or low income people seeking a better way of life elsewhere in the world, a process that this ULP government has openly endorsed.

    The politically expedient result is that any party that gains power is forced to do what all their predecessors have done: finance glitzy but wasteful projects (like Arglye International Airport) with begged and borrowed money plus the sale of Crown lands hoping that this would be sufficient to get them elected time and again.

    As the experience of both the current ULP and the previous NDP governments clearly show, this strategy is bound to work.

    And it is the only way to stay in power for more than one term.

    1. You may be right but most of us hope not. In my opinion we already know that Gonsalves cares nothing about job creation, only borrowing money. Ivan O,Neal will never make, and he does not have all the right answers either. I would take Friday over Ralph any day. Ralph is a GREAT politician but a very below average leader. I think Friday is worth a try because he says all (most of) the right things. We have nothing else to go by at this time. He just may surprise all of us instead of the big disappointment Ralph has been. I can close my eyes to most of the bad things about Ralph, but his economics!!! The man hasn’t a clue!

  11. Having Star-Key John who’s on a personal vendetta is not the best way to proceed if you want to run St Vincent..this is the man who helped bring the NDP to it’s knees and now you’ve fully embraced him….Star-Key has way too much baggage..potential voters would shy away from the NDP because of this man…the leadership of the NDP needs to grow some balls, be more inspiring, realize that Star Key style of politics has served it’s time and Vincentians,especially the younger generation would like to see a change in Vincy but, they are wary of the way the NDP is operating at the moment.

  12. “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.

    “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

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