KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent— On June 13, 2019 Justice Stanley John issued “supplemental reasons” to support his decision in which he dismissed the petitions filed by the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidates Benjamin Exeter concerning the Central Leeward constituency and Lauron Baptiste concerning the North Windward constituency. We believe that this raises serious questions about the process adopted by the court to deal with this matter and about the basis of the judgment.
On March 21, 2019, Justice John rendered his oral decision and reasons in open court. He dismissed the petitions on the basis that there was no evidence to support the claims of the petitioners. His written reasons followed later that day and elaborated what he had said in open court.
The “supplemental reasons” come after repeated and insistent requests for them by the respondents’ lawyers. Specifically, on March 22, 2019, the day following the original judgement, the respondents’ lawyers, through counsel Joseph Delves, wrote to the court pointing out that the judge had failed to deal with two aspects of the claims and evidence presented at the trial by petitioner Lauron Baptiste. The claims were that (i) there were 39 more counterfoils than ballots at polling station NW1, and (ii) that there was no final count of ballots in the North Windward constituency. The Respondents’ lawyers also pointed out to the court that as there was likely to be an appeal against the judgement, the Judge should write additional reasons to address the claims and evidence he had neglected to consider. This approach by the respondents is unprecedented and can only work to stifle the petitioner’s appeal.
When it appeared that the court was not responding as requested, the respondents’ lawyers again wrote the registrar and asked when they might get the supplemental reasons they had requested.
At the time that the respondents made their request, Justice John was no longer a judge of the Eastern Caribbean Court. His term of appointment had expired on March 21, 2019, the same day that he issued his judgement. The registrar pointed this out to the respondents’ lawyers, who nevertheless insisted that this obstacle could be overcome by having the matter brought to the attention of the Chief Justice so that Mr. Stanley John could be reappointed as a judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court to deal with their request.
Later, our lawyers learned that Justice John was indeed reappointed as a judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. He was, however, assigned to Antigua. The judge nevertheless determined that this appointment enabled him to respond to the respondents’ request for “supplemental reasons”. On June 13, 2019, almost three months after his original decision and six weeks after the petitioners appealed the judgment, the judge granted the respondents’ request and gave new written reasons for his decision. In those reasons, he rejected the claims and evidence of the petitioner and maintained his original decision dismissing the petitions.
These developments raise serious questions about the process adopted by the court to deal with this matter and with the judgement itself. For example, on what legal basis did the judge continue to act in the cases after he had already given his judgement? Why was the matter not left to the Court of Appeal to decide, especially as the petitioners had already appealed? On what basis did the judge find it necessary and legally appropriate to respond as he did? Further, in adding to his judgment after the petitioners had appealed, did the Judge have the benefit of their Notices of Appeal?
The petitioners and the NDP disagree with the decision of the court to entertain the requests of the respondent’s lawyers and with the substance of the new set of reasons issued by the judge.
On the advice of our lawyers, we believe that the petitioners’ appeals have sound legal basis and must proceed properly before the Court of Appeal. We urge also that justice must appear to be done in these important cases.
As the NDP has said repeatedly, the trial of these petitions has clearly shown the urgent need for changes in our electoral system before the next general elections. The country cannot go into another general election knowing that the electoral process is seriously flawed and that the results cannot be trusted to be the true reflection of the will of the people.