KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Feb 20, CMC – The judge hearing two election petition cases in which the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) is challenging the results of the 2015 general elections that ensured the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) winning a fourth consecutive term in office, says he could give a ruling in the matter next month.
“I can safely say before the end of March,” acting High Court judge, Justice Stanley John said, as the case continued with several witnesses continued giving evidence in the matter.
Lawyers have indicated they would need at least 10 days in which to make written submissions, but the judge noted that the 10 days would take the trial to March 29.
“I would then have to digest both these submissions in one night when you have 10 days to prepare them. How fair is that?” the judge said.
But Queen Counsel, Stanley John (correct) who is leading the case for Benjamin “Ben” Exeter, the NDP candidate who unsuccessfully contested the Central Leeward constituency, told the court that is why he was starting from the outside date of the trial period, March 1, and asked if the date is “cast in concrete”.
“That is cast in concrete,” the judge said, referring to the dates of the trial that Justice Esco Henry had set last December, before recusing herself.
Dominican-born Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan, who is among the lawyers defending the two successful ULP candidates, also questioned if the date was “cast in concrete” for the written submission or the completion of the trial.
But Justice John maintained it would be the date for the trial with Trinidad-born Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, another lawyer for the ULP candidates, indicating that he, too, would like “to chip away slightly at that concrete”.
The judge said the court would like an opportunity to peruse the written submissions and, based on those written submissions, he may need to invite oral submissions.
Mendes said he wanted to suggest a date for the making of oral submission outside the three-week period set down for the trial.
Justice John, however, said he was in no position to make that decision to take the trial beyond March 1, adding that all parties agreed those dates.
He said that to go beyond that date, certain things will have to be done including a discussion with the Registrar of the High Court.
Mendes told the court he did not think that when Justice Henry fixed the date for the trial she had intend for there to be a decision within the three-week period
“The three weeks was fixed really for the trial, for the hearing of the evidence. I don’t think that anybody anticipated that we would have had submission and a decision from the court within that period,” Mendes said.
Justice John said he will hear oral submissions the week beginning March 4 and then he would take “a couple days” to make his decision.
On Tuesday, Kathleen Jeffers, the presiding officer at one of the polling station in Central Leeward, admitted to making multiple mistakes during the final count of the vote in that district, which was won by the ULP’s Sir Louis Starker.
Another presiding officer, Ashanti Caesar-Benjamin, also competed her testimony, but the court did not hear the testimony of Winston Gaymes, the returning officer for Central Leeward, who had earler admitted in a witness statement that he counted ballots that he knew were void.
Gaymes, who has been living overseas for some months, was not called as a witness in the case.
In the North Windward petition, the returning officer, Ville Davis denied the allegation of Cheryl Sutherland, a constituent who election officials had randomly asked to witness the final count in the December 9, 2015 election, that the ballots were not actually counted during the purported final count.
The NDP’s Lauron “Sharer” Baptiste is challenging the victory of the ULP’s Montgomery Daniel in North Windward.