by STAFF WRITER – July 11, 2022
ROSEAU, Dominica, Jul 11, CMC – The Dominica government Monday urged the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to “avoid a repeat of this kind of gratuitous commentary on political affairs” after expressing “its disappointment…regarding certain gratuitous comments” made recently in the case brought by the main opposition United Workers Party (UWP).
“Regrettably, having resolved that narrow, central issue on which the appeal turned, the CCJ made wholly gratuitous comments which, in the context of a politically volatile Dominica, have been seized upon by the Opposition UWP to foment public attacks on the legitimacy of the government,” a statement from the Chamber of the Attorney General said.
UWP and Opposition Leader, Lennox Linton, said although the petitioners lost, the taints of Dominica’s last general election were exposed.
In a statement following the judgment, Linton said the ruling is an indication that the judicial system is ill-equipped to deal with violations of the constitutional rule of law provisions for the electoral process that is supposed to guarantee free and fair elections.
“Then the CCJ tells us efforts by the citizenry in good faith, to call attention to perceived deficiencies in the electoral process should not be discouraged as such efforts conduce to a healthy democracy. In other words, the petitioners did exactly what the CCJ is encouraging the people of Dominica to do.”
“So the petitioners lost, but you know what, the people won,” Linton declared. “The people whose electoral process has been tainted, and whose elections have been stolen with illegalities and irregularities over the past two decades, won a major victory in this very same defeat of the 2019 election petitions indeed,” Linton added.
Last week Tuesday, the CCJ, the island’s highest court, dismissed an application for special leave to appeal against a decision of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal that it had the jurisdiction to entertain appeals against the decision of the High Court judge in Dominica striking out elections petitions for not disclosing a cause of action.
“The application for special leave is dismissed and the orders of the Court of Appeal dated 21 May 2021 are upheld. No order is made in this Court as to costs,” said Justice Adrian Saunders, the CCJ President on behalf of the five-panel of judges.
The application had been filed by members of the main opposition United Workers’ Party (UWP) that lost the December 6, 2019 general election to the ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) by an 18-3 margin.
In January 2020, the UWP through Glenroy Cuffy and others, filed election petitions against Melissa Skerrit and others, including Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, the Chief Elections Officer and the Police Commissioner, alleging several irregularities in the election process and sought to have the court overturn the results in St. Joseph, Mahaut, Morne Jaune, La Plaine, Castle Bruce, Salybia, Roseau Valley, Roseau Central, Roseau South, and Wesley constituencies.
The government, in turn, filed applications to strike out the petitions on the basis, inter alia, that the petitions did not disclose causes of action against them and were abusing the process of the court.
The application to strike out the matter before trial was heard and granted by Justice Glasgow in October 2020.
The CCJ said that it would be remiss if the Court did not, however, offer the following observations.
It said “some of the allegations raised by the appellants are serious and, if true, would be troubling. “Periodic elections that are free and fair are the lifeblood of a country’s democracy. Every effort must be made by a State scrupulously to adhere to the legislative provisions governing elections and, in particular, to those that relate to the integrity of the lists of electors.
“We would hope that the relevant authorities would seriously reflect on the allegations made in these proceedings and consider whether there are steps that can or should be taken to improve the elections machinery so that, as far as possible, the occasion for the making of such allegations as were made here would not arise in the future.”
The CCJ said that efforts by the citizenry, in good faith, to call attention to perceived deficiencies in the electoral process should not be discouraged.
“Such efforts conduce to a healthy democracy. Since the trial judge had determined that the defendants were properly joined as parties, in the exercise of our discretion in this case, we would order that each party should bear their own costs in this Court,” the CCJ added.
But in its statement, the Chambers of the Attorney General, said that following the general elections, the opposition party had launched “virulent and unwarranted “ attacks in the lead up to the hearing of those petitions “that two High Court judges assigned to hear them felt obliged to, in succession, recuse themselves”.
It said the third judge assigned to hear them dismissed all ten petitions” and the UWP was dissatisfied with the court ruling taking the matter all the way before the CCJ.
“Regrettably, having resolved that narrow, central issue on which the appeal turned, the CCJ made wholly gratuitous comments which, in the context of a politically volatile Dominica, have been seized upon by the Opposition UWP to foment public attacks on the legitimacy of the government.
“The CCJ comment that “there remain areas of grave concern about how the process of these elections was conducted. Future elections in Dominica ought not to proceed with these or similar taints” are wrongly being viewed as an authoritative declaration by the CCJ that the DLP’s general election victory is questionable and have, unsurprisingly, fuelled public debate as to the legitimacy of the government.
The Dominica government said that in making those remarks, “the CCJ departed from the sensible, time-honoured practice of not commenting on matters it was not called upon to decide.
“Furthermore, the so-called “taints” over which the Court expressed “grave concern” are nothing but bare allegations on which no findings have been made by any court of law. In the context of the tiny, divided society that is Dominica, it was reasonably foreseeable that such comments from the CCJ would have engulfed the society in dissension.
“The Government of Dominica hopes that given this serious and, no doubt, unintended state of affairs, the CCJ will take appropriate steps to clarify matters and avoid a repeat of this kind of gratuitous commentary on political affairs,” the statement added.