The New Democratic Party’s legal team in the election petitions case is “befuddled” by the decision of acting High Court judge Justice Stanley John to amend his ruling three months later, and even after an appeal has been filed.
A source close to the legal team, who asked not to be named, said there is “no legal basis” for the move by Justice John, as he is no longer a judge sitting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The source said even the Registrar of the High Court had alluded to this when a lawyer for the government wrote to her asking that Justice John give supplemental reasons for his decision.
Last Thursday, June 13, Justice John responded to a request by a lawyer for the government on March 22, one day after his appointment as a judge in SVG ended, that he provide reasons for ruling in favour of the government on two points in the North Windward election petition case.
Joseph Delves, the lawyer for the government, had made the request in three letters to the Registrar of the High Court since March 22, and suggested to the registrar that the chief justice reappoint Justice John to provide the reasons.
Justice John, a retired Trinidadian jurist, was appointed specifically to hear the election petition cases in SVG, part of the jurisdiction of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC).
He was later appointed to act as a High Court judge, from May 2 to July 31, 2019 under assignment to Antigua and Barbuda, another ECSC circuit.
But the source, who is also a legal expert, noted that Justice John referred to two cases — Verbin Bowen et al v The Attorney General et al and Peter Thomas v Desireen Douglas et al — as the basis on which he could give the supplemental reasons for his ruling.
The petitions case was not one where only an oral judgement was given, the source noted, adding that Justice John gave “a considered full-page judgement”.
“He is a highly experienced judge; he was in the court of appeal in Trinidad… How then could he forget or why would he need to give supplemental reasons?”
The source pointed out that the judge had also given an oral synopsis of his judgement and never alluded to needing to supplement his written decision, which was handed down the same day.
The source also noted that the request for supplemental reasons had come from the respondents, who won, and not from the appellants.
The NDP has appealed Justice John’s ruling in the North Windward petition, as well as his judgement on the challenge to the Central Leeward results, which were heard in a consolidated trial in March.
The source noted that Justice John gave his supplemental reasons beyond the time limit for appeal and after the appeals were filed and the grounds of appeal disclosed.
“How could that sit right for the administration of justice? The petitioners have filed their appeal; they have served it on the respondents; they know what the grounds are; it is public once it is filed and then a judge will give supplemental reasons after the petitioners have filed and disclosed their reasons for appeal? It’s very, very disturbing for the administration of justice.”
The source noted that even after supplementing his judgement, the judge remains silent on the issue of the missing election documents in North Windward.
Electoral officials have not presented to the court any Form 16 — a document on which vital polling data, such as number of ballots received and the preliminary result at each polling station are recorded.
Ville Davis, the returning officer for North Windward, said he lost all the form 16s for North Windward.
This admission raised questions about what figures the final count — which the petition is alleging did not take place — was verifying.
The source said:
“It’s perplexing because even though [Justice John] gave a supplemental judgement, he is completely silent on the missing Form 16s.
“So what? He is going to have to give another one (supplemental judgment) again?”
The source further noted that the judge is silent on the claim by the returning officer that that the final count ended at 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 10, 2015 — or some 90 minutes after the prime minister was sworn in.
The judge remains silent, event as he rejected the claim by Cheryl Sutherland, a witness for the petitioner, who said that the count lasted until 2 p.m.
In his supplemental ruling, Justice John noted that Sutherland testified that the process of opening each box, checking the contents and noting the count allegedly written on the envelope took ten minutes each.
This meant the entire process took 2 hours and 20 minutes in all, which left a further 2 hours and 10 minutes unaccounted for, as she said the process continued until 2 p.m.
The source said:
“So if he is accepting what Cheryl said, that it went until 2 o’clock, and, therefore, there was a final full count. What is he saying about Ville Davis who said that the counting went until 8:30. I find it very perplexing.”
The NDP filed the petitions challenging the results in North Windward and Central Leeward in the December 2015 general elections.
Those constituencies were among eight that electoral officials say the Unity Labour Party won, thereby maintaining its one-seat majority in the 15-member Parliament and a fourth consecutive term in office.
Lauron “Sharer” Baptiste and Benjamin Exeter each filed petitions challenging the announced victory of the ULP’s Montgomery Daniel and Sir Louis Straker in North Windward and Central Leeward.