Dominica’s parliamentary opposition leader, Lennox Linton, has reacted to the decision of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), to strike out the United Workers Party (UWP) petitions challenging the election results in ten constituencies. According to Linton, although the petitioners lost, the taints of Dominica’s last general election were exposed.
The UWP’s third attempt to adjudicate claims that Dominica’s 2019 General Election was invalid, ended in another defeat for the party at the apex court for the region.
The Trinidad and Tobago-based CCJ dismissed an application filed by members of the party for special leave to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in the case of Cuffy and Others v Skerrit and Others.
In its ruling on July 6, 2022, the CCJ agreed with the Court of Appeal that the Petitioners had no right to appeal the decision of the High Court judge to strike out their petitions.
In a statement following the judgment, the opposition leader said the ruling is an indication that the judicial system is ill-equipped to deal with violations of the constitutional rule of law provisions for the electoral process that is supposed to guarantee free and fair elections.
In their ruling, the CCJ justices said the critical issue before them was whether the Court of Appeal rightly declined jurisdiction to review the decision of a trial judge who had dismissed the 10 election petitions.
It was the view of the Court of Appeal, that under the Constitution, ss 40(6) and (7), there was no such right, because the decision of the High Court judge, which terminated the case, was not a final decision.
“And the CCJ agreed, even though the strikeout of the pleadings altogether deprived the petitioners entirely of the constitutional right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal, which, according to the CCJ, gave the appeal court separate grounds for jurisdiction to hear the appeal, but no problem, so no remedy,” Linton said.
He further posited that the CCJ in their ruling said that the claims in the petition, if true, were troubling and it hoped that the relevant authorities would seriously reflect on the claims of illegalities and irregularities that tainted the 2019 election and consider steps to improve the elections machinery so that as far as possible, such claims will not arise in the future.
“The petitioners came to court to establish the truth of their claims. The court dismissed them in violation of their constitutional right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal within a reasonable time. But no problem, so no remedy,” Linton stated.
He continued, “Then the CCJ tells us efforts by the citizenry in good faith, to call attention to perceived deficiencies in the electoral process should not be discouraged as such efforts conduce to a healthy democracy. In other words, the petitioners did exactly what the CCJ is encouraging the people of Dominica to do.”
“So the petitioners lost, but you know what, the people won,” Linton declared. “The people whose electoral process has been tainted, and whose elections have been stolen with illegalities and irregularities over the past two decades, won a major victory in this very same defeat of the 2019 election petitions indeed.”
In the final thoughts of the CCJ on the matter, the court noted, “In conclusion, these appeals have been dismissed on the basis of want of jurisdiction, because there was no final decision or order made by the judge for the purposes of ss 40 (6) and (7) of the Dominica Constitution. However, there remain areas of grave concern about how the process of these elections was conducted. Future elections in Dominica ought not to proceed with these or similar taints.”
According to Linton, this is a clear signal from the court to the people of Dominica, that there should be no more general elections in Dominica without electoral reform.
“Taints are corrupted influences. When something is tainted, it is defiled, it is corrupted, it is adulterated, it is defective. It is not fit for purpose and the Caribbean Court of Justice is saying future elections in Dominica are not to proceed with these are similar taints, meaning the corrupting influences that have impacted elections in Dominica,” he said.
Linton stated that the decision of the CCJ conclusively prevented any further inquiry into unlawful conduct by the election authorities that could have gone to the route of free and fair elections in Dominica.
He however urged the citizenry, “If the apex court of the Caribbean is saying to you, future elections in Dominica ought not to proceed with the taints that have impacted the process, as they were able to see it in these election petitions, if they [are] saying that there may have been unlawful conduct by-election authorities that went to the route of free and fair election, it is up to the people of Dominica to decide now. There will not be another election in this country without the reforms of the process that have been promised and on which we have received numerous recommendations through the years.”
Attorney-at-law Zahidha James who was one of the lawyers representing the Petitioners described the ruling as “very positive” for Dominicans.
“We did lose the aspect of our application to go back to the High court to get a full trial but what we won instead, is some for our safeguard which we did not have before for our democracy in Dominica.”
She stated that the Petitioners were successful in their quest to receive an acknowledgment from the court that the elections in Dominica were “very bad” and rendered the election a “sham.”
“But what I got from the decision, which I felt was very important and very moving and something we have to not let go of, is clear words that we can never again go to an election in Dominica, with the taint of what happened in our last election,” she asserted.
“They [the judges] referred to our elections as tainted and they made that unequivocal statement. In my opinion, this suggests that we, in Dominica, have an illegitimate government governing us at this moment in time. Because if this government was elected on a tainted election, to the point that the CCJ had to specifically say that we never do that, again, we do not have a properly elected government in Dominica, that is a fundamental issue that we cannot lose sight of.”
James added that the Petitioners did not lose the case on the merits of their argument but insisted that the court’s hands were tied given Dominica’s constitution.