Lawyer and lawmaker Kay Bacchus-Baptiste has called for the establishment of an election court in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States jurisdiction.
However, in response, Dominican lawyer Anthony Astaphan, a member of the defence team in the two election petitions before the court, accused the lawyer of wrongly blaming the court for the delay in the trial of the matters.
Bacchus-Baptiste is a senator for the main opposition New Democratic Party which has brought the two petitions that have been before the court since December 2015.
Trial in the substantive matters are now scheduled for December 2018, more than a year after the court of Appeal reinstated the petition and ordered that the High Court hear them expeditiously.
“… the sad thing is that, petitions, as you know, really should be heard expeditiously, as was stated by the Court of Appeal,” Bacchus-Baptiste said on Monday as she explained why the trial was postponed from September to December.
“So we are saying that the time has come for our chief justice, and our jurisdiction, the OECS court, to either have an election court, and this is my perspective so that when these matters come up, you assign a particular judge or you have what is known as an election court for the hearing of these matters.
“And if nothing else, I hope that the failure of our administration to be able to have these petitions heard expeditiously, if nothing else comes out of these petitions that we have filed would be the need to have an election court.”
During a case management hearing on July 12, the parties decided to postpone the trial from September to December because of the long court vacation and the number of applications to be filed.
Bacchus-Baptiste did not blame the court for the delay, but said, “… in the region, we have what is known as a Commercial Court, a Commercial Court that deals with commercial matters, a Family Court that deals with family matters, we have a Serious Offences Court, I think the time has come and I am making the clarion call for us to have an election court.”
Bacchus-Baptiste attempted to justify her call, saying:
“Every time there is an election, there are several petitions that are filed throughout the OECS. You may be surprised. Sometimes, we don’t hear about them. Even in this matter, there are many cases that we are relying on that are election cases that came from the jurisdiction… So it is quite viable.”
But in separate call to the station, Astaphan, a senior counsel, accused Bacchus-Baptiste of making excuses for delays he suggested her side caused.
“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. On every occasion, the Court of Appeal, in election matters, have had urgent sittings in St. Lucia or have abridged the time for appeals…” Astaphan said.
“We are, obviously, anxious to have this matter heard as well, and you will see us by the end of November. You’d probably see us towards the end of November, moving in to December to get this matter done once and for all,” he further stated, adding, “People should be fed up.”
And even as she called for an election court, Bacchus-Baptiste claimed political victory in the election matter and spoke of the strength of the petitions.
She said that the strength of the petitions “lies in the fact that we have exposed the weakness and the aberration of how the ballots were designed and how the elections were conducted…
“We have exposed that weakness and we are going to make sure that every single voter in this population understands what a ballot paper should look like, so well that they would see at a glance that the ballot paper is not properly designed.”
She said that she was told that when Member of Parliament for West Kingstown, Daniel Cummings asked ahead of the December 2015 election that the NDP be allowed to have a look at the ballot paper, he was denied.
“Now we know why it was refused: because the ballot papers were badly designed and was a breach even of the Constitution.”
Bacchus-Baptiste urged listeners not to be too upset that the petitions might not be heard in time for the end of this year.
“Think that what we have done is exposed this way, so we know that by the poor design of the ballot paper it was possible to tell who people were voting for, how many votes your candidate got or did not get, and possibly, how, with a bad and illegal ballot box, with a huge plot, it is possible that votes could have been dropped in.
“The point is, once you find illegal votes in a ballot box that were not stamped with the presiding officer’s stamp, there is no way of checking that those votes were marked by the electors. No way of checking it. That is a fact and that is what we have exposed by bringing these petitions.”