ST. VINCENT-Investigation launched as Judge recuses herself from election petitions case

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The Registrar of the High Court is said to be investigating how 12 matters came to be listed for hearing by Justice Esco Henry this week, which has been dedicated to the hearing of the two petitions challenging the results of the December 2015 general elections in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Based on this, Henry on Tuesday, recused herself from hearing the petitions, four days after she granted an application that the hearing be postponed to February 11.

Benjamin Exeter and Lauron “Sharer” Baptiste of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) are challenging the announced victories in the general election of 2015, of Sir Louis Straker and Montgomery Daniel, of the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), in Central Leeward and North Windward.

The ULP won the general election by an 8-7 margin, giving it a fourth consecutive term in office.

Bacchus-Baptiste, who is also an NDP senator, said   on Monday, Henry had summoned all lawyers  to appear before her in matters listed for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week.

She said the lawyers in the petitions had also been summoned although on Friday, Henry was granted an application by Carlos James, the junior lawyer for Sir Louis and Daniel, to postpone this week’s hearing in the petitions because the senior lawyer, Grahame Bollers was unwell.

After hearing the application, which the lawyers for Exeter and Baptiste opposed, the judge adjourned the hearing of oral evidence to February 11 and ordered that Sir Louis and Daniel find new counsel within two weeks.

Bacchus-Baptiste said lawyers did not know why the judge had summoned them to appear before her on Tuesday.

The development comes three years after the petitions were filed and 18 months after the Court of Appeal reinstated them and ordered that they be heard “expeditiously”.

Bacchus-Baptiste said her concern surrounding the listing of the other matters for this week, when the petitions should have been heard, is even greater because of the judge’s reason for recusing herself.

She said the way forward for the NDP is that the party will have to ensure now that the Chief Justice will appoint someone who is very versed in election matters.

“… because, as you know, they are highly specialised matters, but, nevertheless, Justice Henry was able to get up to speed to hear it.”

In March 2017, the Court of Appeal overturned Justice Cottle’s June 2016 decision to dismiss the petitions as improperly before the court.

The decision by Henry comes mere days after she granted an application, last Friday, by Carlos James, the attorney representing the two government legislators to postpone until next February the hearing of oral testimonies, originally scheduled for this week.

James made the application alleging that Grahame Bollers, senior counsel for two of the respondents, is unwell and his doctors have ordered him to rest.

In Friday’s ruling, Justice Henry noted that she is under orders by the Court of Appeal to hear the petitions as expeditiously as possible. The petitions have been winding their way through the courts since December 2015.

The Court of Appeal reinstated them in March 2017 after ruling that the decision by Justice Brian Cottle showed apparent bias when he, in June 2016 dismissed the petitions as improperly placed before the court.

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