Election petitions most important matters in Eastern Caribbean


Local lawyer Kay Bacchus-Baptiste says that the election petitions currently before the High Court in St Vincent and
the Grenadines are the most important matters listed for trial in the Eastern Caribbean.
The two petitions, filed by the opposition New Democratic Party’s Central Leeward candidate Benjamin Exeter and
North Windward candidate Lauron Baptiste after the general elections in December 2015, can be a deciding factor
in whether elections in those two constituencies were free and fair and, by extension, whether the ruling Unity
Labour Party (ULP) government was duly elected.
“Those two petitions filed by Lauron Baptiste and Ben Exeter are the two most important matters before the High
Court for trial currently, not only in St Vincent and the Grenadines but in the Estern Caribbean because petitions
matters are highly significant, they are important as they concern the right to free and fair elections, they concern
the right for people to vote by secret ballot and they’re of high public interest. So they are the two most important
cases that are presently before the court in St Vincent and the Grenadines. And the impact of having to adjourn
those cases because a judge has been forced to recuse herself, after waiting three years to have those cases
heard, I think has serious far-reaching consequences for the administration of justice in St Vincent and the
Grenadines,” said Bacchus-Baptiste who is representing the North Windward candidate in the trial.
The petitions were filed on December 30th, 2015. At a hearing in the middle of 2016, then presiding Judge Justice
Brian Cottle dismissed the petitions.Exeter and Baptiste appealed the decision and in March 2017, the Eastern
Caribbean Court of Appeal set aside the judgement citing “apparent bias.” The court then ordered a new trial before
a new judge and that such trial be heard expeditiosly. Justice Esco Henry was appointed as trial judge.
The hearing began in 2017 but is yet to conclude because of a number of applications for which adjournments were
granted. On a consent order in July, this year, the resumption of the trial was set for December 3rd-7th, 2018.
However, on November 23, lawyer Grahame Bollers, who is one of two lawyers representing the Unity Labour
Party’s (ULP) Central Leeward candidate Sir Louis Straker and North Windward candidate Montgomery Daniel,
filed an application for the scheduled dates for trial too be vacated on the basis of his health condition.
Last Friday, after hearing submissions on the application, Justice Henry vacated the trial dates and set a new
period for trial between February 11th-March 1st, 2019. However, last Tuesday, Justice Henry recused herself from
the trial under strange circumstances.
Justice Henry met with lawyers who had matter listed before her and informed them that although her judicial
calendar for December 3rd-7th had been cleared, she was informed last Friday afternoon by the Registrar that
there were 12 matters listed for her to hear that said period.
Justice Henry said she was concerned because the public could perceive that she knew beforehand that the matter
of the petitions was not going on and that’s why matters were set down for that period. She said her career was at
stake and she decided to recuse herself. The question that is lingering is; how did those matters get listed for that
period when the trial Judge’s judicial calendar was cleared for that period.
Bacchus-Baptiste said she found that the forced decision by Justice Henry to recuse herself a very momentous
decision and has far-reaching impact on the administration of justice in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Bacchus-Baptiste said that the ruling Unity Labour Party Government is in a precarious position because it has a
one-seat majority, the elections results having been declared 8-7, and two of their seats are being challenged in
the court.
“And so, these petitions ought to be heard far more expeditiously than they have been,” Bacchus-Baptiste stated.