Amidst protest action and clashes with security forces over demands for electoral reform to ensure free and fair elections, High Court Judge Bernie Stephenson has ruled that the court “does not have the jurisdiction to grant an injunction to stop the December 6th, 2019 general elections to be held in Dominica.”
Pressure group, Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), headed by its president Loftus Durand and six other Dominican citizens, went to court to challenge the December 6th, 2019 elections and asked the court to “halt the process and place an injunction.”
Cara Shillingford, who led the case for the applicants, told the court that “it does have jurisdiction to grant the reliefs sought.”
“We have a constitutional right to approach the court, the constitution provides that right and we are submitting that they have a right to be heard,” she told the court.
However, Lennox Lawrence, attorney for President Charles Savarin, who is a party to the matter, said “this is not a fundamental rights issue and once the election writ was issued by the President, the court has no jurisdiction on the matter.” His views were supported by the attorney for the Electoral Commission and Ian Michael Anthony, the Chief Elections Officer, Health Felix-Evans.
“The law is clear and well settled on the issue on election law and jurisdiction. This challenge must be done after the election via an election petition. This court has no jurisdiction to grant an injunction,” the lawyers for the respondents told the court.
In her ruling, Justice Stephenson dismissed the applicant to grant an injunction and to grant judicial review.
“This court cannot intrude on the elections once the writ has been issued by the President. I understand that the applicants may have legitimate concerns but that can be done otherwise and that is after the election, via elections petition and so, declare that this court has no jurisdiction to grant the reliefs sought,” the Judge stated.
Heather Felix-Evans said she was not surprised at the court’s ruling.
“The law is settled. It was on our side and there is also a plethora of cases saying that anything challenging the legitimacy of the elections have to be brought to an elections court which is a special court and has special jurisdiction established under Section 40 of the constitution,” she said.
“They are asking the court to assume or speculate that the results will not be fair and the fact that they have come before the elections, will not help them because what they are challenging is the legitimacy of the elections. Therefore, they have to wait and the alternative remedy is election petition and they have 21 days after the election to so do…once the President issues the writ the elections must be held,” Felix-Evans stated.
Attorney for the applicants, Cara Shillingford, has put the court on notice that they will appeal.
“We are not surprised at the decision and will appeal. We remain firm in our conviction that the elections should be stopped and there are too many irregularities for the December 6th, 2019 election to go ahead. We have also indicated to the Judge that we will appeal,” Shillingford stated.
“We are so concerned about the irregularities in the register of electors and we will not at this time, this is not an application that is common, There are authorities (Canadian) granting injunctions. The fact that it has never been made in Dominica or this jurisdiction, does not say it can’t be granted. There is a first time for everything and if the law and the constitution support us, the court should interpret and apply the law it a way that requires justice,” Shillingford stated.
The appeal will be lodged within the next few hours with the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) based in St. Lucia.