(Press statement on the matter concerning “Supplemental Reasons” for judgment in petitions)
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 judgment, 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 judgment, 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 judgment. 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 judgment itself. For example, on what legal basis did the Judge continue to act in the cases after he had already given his judgment? 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.
The NDP congratulates all students who have graduated primary and secondary schools and the Community College. Most students from the community College will be seeking employment while others will be pursuing studies at universities. The reality is, most of these young, bright Vincentians will join the unemployment line; because the Unity Labour Party government has damaged the economic prospects of the country and have provided not a field of dreams, but a stark landscape of rising unemployment, hopelessness and apathy among our young people.
The NDP has a better way. We see the talent and energy of the country’s youth as pivotal in the effort to move our beloved country forward. In diverse areas across the board, the NDP will provide the youth with the opportunities, support and facilities they need to succeed and to help build a new St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Our major priority will be job creation for our young people. Be reminded that the unemployment rate among the youth is a staggering 46% according to the IMF. We will also increase and diversify the scholarship programme (more scholarships in more places). The existing scholarship programme will be improved to offer a wider variety of opportunities for young people to access higher education in properly accredited universities and colleges worldwide. Diverse scholarships will be sourced to encourage persons into non-traditional education including opportunities for young people in culture, music and sports. The NDP is ready to make St. Vincent and the Grenadines work for all Vincentians.