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March 7, 2017
SVG Elections petitions case reinstated by the High Court

The elections petitions filed by the New Democratic Party (NDP) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and the application by the respondents to have them struck out have been reinstated by the Appeals Court.

At a sitting of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) on Tuesday, March 7, justices Gertel Thom, Mario Michel and Davidson Baptiste ruled that there was the appearance of alleged bias on the part of high court judge Brian Cottle who had ruled in June 2016 that the petitions be struck out.

On April 4, 2016, in a written judgement, Cottle ruled that it would be premature to strike out the petitions which seek to overturn the results of the general elections of December 9, 2015 in the Central Leeward and North Windward constituencies, as the solicitors for the Government had sought.

“I agree with counsel for the petitioners that I am compelled to follow the decision of the Court of Appeal per Rawlins CJ in Joseph v Reynolds. The application to strike out is premature.

“This court has no jurisdiction to entertain it by means of an interlocutory application in chambers. I therefore refuse the application to strike out at this stage.”

The judge, however, said that if lawyers for the Government apply for the petitions to be struck out when the petitions are argued before the High Court, they would succeed.

“However, having had the benefit of full arguments, I am of the view that such an application, if made at the beginning of the hearing of the petition, is bound to succeed. This indication may be of some assistance to the parties in deciding the way forward and saving costs, time and national uncertainty,” Cottle said in April, 2016.

It is this statement by Cottle that the application to strike out “is bound to succeed” which the Appeals Court agreed had the appearance of alleged bias.

When the applications to have the petitions struck out were argued before the High Court, Cottle did indeed strike them out on June 23, 2016. In his judgment, Cottle said the petitioners were obligated to provide sureties and this was not done.

Commenting after the ruling of the Appeal’s Court on Tuesday, lawyer for the respondents Anthony Astaphan said: “We are unfortunately and regrettably back to square one, where we now have to go back to another judge to argue largely the same issues, all over again, to decide whether the petitions should be struck out….We have to start the process all over again.”

The motion to have the election petitions struck out must now be heard before another judge in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Saying he was “extremely disappointed,” Astaphan added that he did not expect the case to turn out the way it did.

“Whatever you may wish to say about Justice Cottle’s statements, everybody knew he had made them, everybody proceeded to the hearings, everybody made submissions, everybody waited on the judgment without objection and it is only when the notice of appeal was filed, we saw for the first time, the question of bias,” the lawyer said.

The petitioners in the matters are candidates for the NDP Lauron Baptiste and Benjamin Exeter, while the respondents are supervisor of elections Sylvia Findlay; successful Unity Labour Party candidates Montgomery Daniel and Louis Straker; returning officers Vil Davis and Winston Gaymes; presiding officers Veronica John and Kathleen Jeffers.