The two election petitions that have been before the court since 2015 have “become an academic issue now, for all practical purpose”.
That is the view of Dominican senior counsel, Anthony Astaphan, a member of the government’s legal team.
Astaphan’s comments came on Boom FM on Monday as he responded to statements that same day by opposition senator, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, who explained why the trial has been adjourned from September to December.
Bacchus-Baptiste, who is a member of the legal team of the main opposition New Democratic Party, which brought the petitions, said that the adjournment was agreed upon because of the long High Court vacation and the number of applications before the court.
But Astaphan, in a separate call to the radio station, accused Bacchus-Baptiste of making excuses for her legal team.
“I listened to the apology tour of the NDP this morning on Boom and I am so happy that they are apologising for the delay. I don’t intend to get involved with the apology tour,” he said, adding that there are a number of matters that he wanted to comment on.
Astaphan said he has done election petitions in Antigua, Nevis, St. Kitts, Dominica, and St. Lucia, and, with the exception of an appeal after the trial of the petitions, generally, were disposed of within a year and a half.
“So the delay is not the court’s fault, the delay is caused generally by the conduct of the lawyers,” he said.
“I am not going to blame anybody but I am going to point out a fact,” he said and recounted the history of the case, beginning with Justice Brian Cottle’s decision on the lawfulness of the security for cost.
Justice Cottle had dismissed the petitions as improperly filed but the Court of Appeal overturned that decision and ordered that the petitions be heard before a different judge.
Justice Esco Henry has been assigned to hear the cases.
“What I am saying is and what I want to say is, Justice Henry, Esco Henry, has been doing a phenomenal job to get this job going and to ensure that things are done properly. She is a disciplinarian and she is insisting that things are being done right and the time frame that we now have is consistent with material being put before her at various stages and that is an inevitable consequence of the filings. So, the judges are not to blame. That, from my perspective, eliminates completely this issue of an election court, which suggests that the blame is to be laid at the feet of the court, because there is not priority being given to these matters.”
Bacchus-Baptiste had called for the establishment of an election court so that election challenges could be heard expeditiously.
However, the host of the programme told Astaphan that he did not get the impression that Bacchus-Baptiste was blaming the court for the delay.
“The suggestion that we need an election court to be at standing attention waiting on elections and election petitions carries the implication or the imputation that the courts are partly to be blamed and the parties cannot get their materials to court quickly enough,” Astaphan said.