Judges of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) will on Thursday, May 28, deliver their decision on a judicial review matter in the “treating” case to do with the 2014 general election in Dominica.
The decision will be given in Antigua.
This matter dates back to the 2014 general election held in Dominica after which Mervin John Baptiste, Antoine Defoe, and Edincot St. Valle filed criminal complaints against candidates of the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) accusing them of “treating in the run-up to the election.”
Mervin John Baptiste, in his complaint, alleged that government ministers worked together to “corruptly, directly and/or indirectly influence the results” of the polls.
John Baptiste cited two free concerts, one featuring three-time Grammy Award winner and international gospel star, Donny McClurkin and the other, by Jamaican Reggae group, Morgan Heritage, that the DLP allegedly used to “corruptly influence” the outcome of the election.
He charged that those concerts were “in contravention of Section 56 (a) of the House of Assembly Elections Act which deals with treating.” All 15 elected members of the DLP were named in the complaint.
But before the matter could be heard by the magistrate, the DLP, through its lawyer Anthony Astaphan SC, filed for judicial review alleging that the magistrate had no jurisdiction to issue the said summons and the matter was one of an election petition.
After hearing arguments from both sides, High Court Judge, Bernie Stephenson ruled in favor of the DLP candidates stating that the magistrate who signed the summons erred in law.
“The interveners cannot, in the circumstances of this case, try to circumvent the requirements of the Constitution of Dominica and the HOAE (House of Assembly Elections Act) by seeking to file complaints against the Claimants in the Magistrate’s Court and charging them for the offense of treating,” the Judge wrote.
“I am satisfied that the jurisdiction to question elections or the jurisdiction to question the Constitution of the House of Assembly lies solely in the High Court and therefore the Learned Magistrate acted in excess of his jurisdiction when he signed the complaints, thus his actions are therefore liable to be quashed,” Stephenson ruled.
The appellants (Mervin John Baptiste, Antoine Defoe, and Edincot St. Valle), through their lawyer Cara Shillingford, appealed that matter which was heard in October 2019 and the decision reserved.
In her arguments before the ECSC, Shillingford stated that Section 59 of the House of Assembly Elections Act is clear and unambiguous.
“Treating is a summary offense and the learned magistrate had proper jurisdiction to issue the summons,” she argued.
Shillingford told the court that what the individuals are charged with is an election offense and cannot fall under an election petition.
She asked the court to give effect to the wording of the constitution.
“The duty of the court is to interpret the constitution, an election petition is not an issue, what happened was an election offense,” Shillingford stated.
But in response, Anthony Astaphan SC posited that the appellants “cannot bypass the Election Petition and also the 21-28 days under the Election Petition.”
“The Magistrate has no jurisdiction to deal with election matters…” he contended.”
Astaphan maintains that the matter ought to have gone to the high court through an election petition and the Appellant’s view that the magistrate has jurisdiction is wrong.
This case has far-reaching implications under section 59 and 61 (a) of the House of Assembly Elections Act Chapter 2:01.
Section 59 states “Every person who is guilty of bribery, treating or undue influence under the provisions of this Act is liable on summary conviction to a fine of five thousand dollars or to imprisonment of six months.” Section 61 states, “Every person who is convicted of bribery, treating or undue influence or personation, or of aiding, counseling or procuring the commission of the offense of personation shall, in addition to any other punishment, be incapable during a period of seven years from the date of conviction, (a) of being registered as an elector or voting at any election of a member of the House of Assembly.”
In 2014, DLP won that election grabbing 15 of the 21 seats; the United Workers Party (UWP) took six.