The Trinidadian namesake of the lead counsel for the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in the election petitions cases has been appointed to act as a judge during the date set aside for the next hearings in the matter.
Opposition Senator Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, who is also a lawyer for the NDP in the case, told a party press conference in Kingstown on Monday that the dates of Justice John’s tenure suggest that he will preside over the case.
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court says on its website that Justice Stanley John has been appointed to act as High Court judge for the periods Jan. 23 to 25, 2019 and Feb. 10 to March 2, 2019.
“We have not been told per se that this is the judge. But, because of the dates of the appointments — everything points to the fact that Honourable Justice Stanley John — a coincidence — may be the judge who will be hearing these petitions.”
Justice John is the namesake of Vincentian Stanley “Stalky” John, QC, who is lead counsel for the petitioners.
In 2017, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, citing bias by the trial judge, Justice Brian Cottle, reinstated the election petitions and the matter was due to have come up for hearing last December.
However the new judge, Esco Henry, recused herself days after setting Feb. 11 as the new date.
The NDP’s Benjamin “Ben” Exeter and Lauron “Sharer” Baptiste have brought the petitions, challenging the announced results in Central Leeward and North Windward of the December 2015 general elections.
Electoral officials say that Sir Louis Straker and Montgomery Daniel won those seats to help the Unity Labour Party secure a fourth consecutive term in office by taking eight of the 15 seats, while the remaining seven went to the NDP in a carbon copy of the 2010 election results.
Speaking at Monday’s press conference, Leader of the Opposition and NDP president, Godwin Friday noted that before recusing herself, Justice Henry had set Feb. 11 as the trial date in the cases that have been winding their way through the court since December 2015.
The opposition leader noted that the September and December 2018 trial dates were adjourned and next month’s date is the third given by the court.
“Despite the change of judge in the matter, we expect that the new date February 11, 2019 will finally be the start date for the trial.”
He, however, noted that this Thursday, Jan. 24, a status hearing will be heard with the new judge – who is yet to be announced.
“… and we will know better where things stand,” Friday said.
The opposition leader told the media that he spoke last Friday to the NDP’s lead counsel in the matter.
“As with most of us, he and our hardworking legal team are looking forward to the hearing later this week and to the trial in February.”
Friday said that the case concerns not only the litigants and his party.
“This matter concerns all of us. It is not just a Ben Exeter matter or a Lauron Baptiste matter. It is not just a Dr. Friday matter or an NDP matter. It is a Vincentian matter, perhaps even a Caribbean matter!”
He further noted that the case has been going on for some time and that the nation is moving towards another election cycle — with general elections constitutionally due by March 2021.
“I know that with all the delay we have had and the apparent winding down of the clock to the constitutional date for a fresh election, many people have been disappointed about the way the matters have gone. However, we cannot allow the cases to go on without the public knowing what is happening and taking an interest in seeing them to their proper conclusion. I am inviting one and all to come to the court on Thursday, 9 o’clock, and on the subsequent days when the trial will be held to witness the full unfolding of the legal process guaranteed by our laws and our democratic traditions.
Our electoral process must be free and fair and must be seen to be so by the people who rely on it to elect their government. The petitions are a necessary part of maintaining that system for all of us,” he said.
Friday described as “wishful thinking” any suggestion that the party would abandon its court challenge to the election results.
He said the NDP is still confident of victory in the courts.
“That’s why we have been pursuing this so vigorously. Of course, we believe in the strength of our case, the petitioners believe in the strength of the case, the lawyers believe in the strength of the case. But ultimately that will be a matter for the courts to decide and we will present the best evidence that we can, the best arguments…” he said.