ST. VINCENT-High Court dismisses application to inspect ballot boxes

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A High Court judge Tuesday dismissed as an abuse of the Court’s process, an application by an opposition candidate to examine the ballot boxes used in the Central Leeward constituency during the2015 general elections.

Justice Esco Henry said the application by Ben Exeter was similar to one that Justice Brian Cottle dismissed in 2015, and was, therefore, an abuse of the court’s process. She said that although the second application had information not contained in the first motion, Exeter was in possession of that evidence when the first motion was filed.

he suggested that the petitioner could have appealed Cottle’s decision that had been handed down a day or two before the expiration of the time stipulated by the law here for the filing of election petitions.

The judge also ordered that Exeter pay cost to the respondents, Presiding Officer Kathleen Jeffers, Deputy Prime Minister and Member of Parliament for Central Leeward, Sir Louis Straker, and Supervisor of Elections, Sylvia Findlay Scrubb.

Attorney Graham Bollers, welcomed the ruling saying “we are looking forward to the release of the judgement so we can peruse it.

“The judgement validates all our arguments that we posed before the judge,” Bollers said, expressing confidence that his clients would be victorious when the petition is heard in the Court.

“We are pleased with the results today,” he added, while Sir Louis said he felt “somewhat relieved” by the judgment.

“I think it is very difficult to disenfranchise the people of Central Leeward, have what they did on December the 9th (2015) come to nought. I think the judge has ruled, we have to accept her ruling.”

He said it has to be borne in mind that he has contested five elections, three of which were conducted under the New Democratic Party (NDP) administration.

“I have no question in my mind that the people of Central Leeward have spoken through the ballots. As [former prime minister and NDP founder] Sir James Mitchell said, you cannot win an election in court. You have to win it at the ballot boxes, and I am confident that what the people of Central Leeward have done on the 9th of December 2015 remains valid and will continue to remain valid to the end of the term that they have elected me for.”

Justice Henry also ruled that the Registrar of the High Court, in consultation with the parties, must fix a date for case management and trial and issue notices of hearing.

She later adjourned the hearing of the election petitions to a date to be fixed by the registrar, in consultation with the parties.

Attorneys for Exeter, who contested the seat on behalf of the NDP, had asked the High Court in December to allow their client to inspect the ballot boxes as he challenged the result of the poll that was won by Sir Louis on behalf of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP).

Exeter in the motion to inspect the ballots boxes, had argued that the design of the ballots contravened the election rules.

Queen’s Counsel Stanley “Stalky” John, who led Exeter’s legal team in an immediate reaction to the judgement, told reporters “the bottom line is that the judge is saying that given that another judge, who is a High Court judge, heard an application for inspection of the ballots, that she, properly, cannot now overrule that decision”.

John said that he was satisfied that the arguments he put forward during the two days of hearing in December were sound, adding that nothing in the judgement said otherwise.

“The critical issue is this: the issues concerning why there should be inspection, according to the judge, could have all be dealt with or are all covered by the application made before the petition was filed.

“Now, we may have other views on that but we accept the ruling of the judge going forward. This matter is not appealable because it is an interlocutory hearing. So we must go forward on the basis of the ruling that was made by the judge towards the trial,” John told reporters.

He said that his legal team would have to access the extent to which the decision impacts the merits of the case, noting that the judge was not in a position to read the judgement in full to the court on Tuesday.

“So, until such time as we have had an opportunity to read the judgement in full and assess the reasoning in the judgement, we won’t be able to say exactly to what extent it impacts on the merits of the case at the trial. But the judge felt that her hands were tied because of the decision, which was made before.

“And we know, of course, that this case has a long history. Not only has there been pronouncements, by the High Court, there has also been a pronouncement by the Court of Appeal in relation to the manner in which it has been progressing.”

Last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that Justice Cottle had shown apparent bias in his decision to dismiss the petitions as improperly filed. The appellate court also reverted the petition to the High Court to be heard expeditiously, by a different judge, and Henry was assigned the case.

“So we will see what happens when the trial takes place because it is always open to the court, based on the evidence, based on the pleadings, to determine whether or not it wishes to look at the ballots or the counterfoils or to open the counterfoils. So this is not the end, as it were,” John said.

The NDP has also filed a petition challenging the results in North Windward constituency win by the ULP’s Montgomery Daniel, for a fourth consecutive term.

The ULP secured a fourth consecutive term in office in 2015 when it won eight of the 15 seats at stake in the election.

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