Court of Appeal to move ahead with early hearing of Election petition case

Court of Appeal to move ahead with early hearing of Election petition case

An attempt by Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo to have a motion, seeking an early hearing of an election petition case, dismissed, failed on Monday, with the Court of Appeal moving to expedite the process.

After hearing a series of arguments, Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings together with Justices of Appeal Rishi Persaud and Dawn Gregory ruled that the appeal, which challenges the April 2021 decision of the High Court that there is nothing unconstitutional about Section 22 of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act and Order 60 (Recount Order), should proceed.  

“It is the court’s view that in the public’s interest and the wider interest of justice, matters of this nature should be heard and should be determined in a timely manner,” the Chancellor said.

However, Chancellor Cummings-Edwards said the Appellate Court has taken note of the fact that some 19 months after the High Court ruling, the appeal is now at this stage.  

“But whether the failure to conduct and prosecute the appeal with due dispatch lies in the bosom of the counsel for the appellant…or whether it lies at the feet of the judicial system itself… is an issue that will have to be investigated. But nevertheless, a party or the appellant should not be turned away from the seat of the justice,” the Chancellor said.

Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde, who together with Attorneys Selwyn Pieters and Mayo Robertson, is representing the appellants – Claudette Thorne and Heston Bostwick – said the case has been languishing in the system for more than 19 months and should be heard soonest.

The Senior Counsel explained that since the appeal was filed in 2021, the record of the appeal could not have been properly placed before the Appellate Court because the Registry was not in possession of a copy of the written decision of Chief Justice (ag), Justice Roxane George.

He pointed out that at the time of the ruling, the Chief Justice specifically indicated that her full decision would follow, however, the full judgement is still pending.

“Your honour, we respectfully submit that we would have suffered up to now, at this stage, a substantial prejudice by the failure to have the full decision made and laid over before the court, upon which we could first establish and access the record of the appeal,” Senior Counsel Forde said. He told the Court that the appellants could not be blame for the delay.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Senior Counsel, Douglas Mendes, who is presenting Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo – the fourth named respondent – admitted that given the nature of the appeal, it ought to be heard urgently, noting that the case has implications for the composition of the National Assembly.

However, he submitted that the Motion to expedite the case should have been filed simultaneously with the Notice of Appeal given its importance but the petitioners, through their attorneys, failed so do.

Senior Counsel Mendes argued that the case could have long concluded, however, it took the counsel for the appellants 19 months before filing the motion for an early hearing.

“The issue arises because the appellants did nothing until the 30th of August 2022 to progress this appeal; that is to say, they took 19 months to approach this court,” he said. He said Senior Counsel Forde is blaming everyone else for the delay except for the appellants.

“He is blaming the Chief Justice for not delivering a written judgement when the transcript for the oral judgment…has always been available and I presume that he is also blaming the Registry staff for not progressing this appeal,” Senior Counsel Mendes said.

In support of his client’s application to strike out the motion, the Trinidadian Senior Counsel cited a number of cases.

His arguments were adopted by the majority of the other respondents, including the Attorney General, Anil Nandlall.

But in response, Senior Counsel Forde said the petitioners could not be blamed for the institutional failures, as he urged the Court to set a date for the Case Management Conference and for the appeal to be heard soonest.

Upon ruling in favor of the appellants, the Chancellor set out to fix dates for submissions and oral arguments, however, given concerns over the need for the full judgment of the High Court, she ordered that a date for a report on the state of the records be set first.

November 1 has been set for the submission of a report on the state of the records.

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