ST. VINCENT-COURT-Senior Counsel Astaphan presents case for dismissal of petitions

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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, May 4, CMC – Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan Thursday outlined the matters on which the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) wants the High Court to determine that two election petitions filed by the New Democratic Party (NDP) challenging the December 2015 general elections here should be deemed as invalid.
In a two-hour submission before Justice Esco Henry, Astaphan said that he wanted the High Court to determine whether the security given on behalf of the petitioners are in strict conformity with the relevant section of the election law.
The court is hearing arguments in the petitions brought by the main opposition NDP, challenging the results in the Central Leeward and North Windward constituencies that were won by the ULP as it secured a fourth consecutive term in office by a slender one seat-majority in the 15-member Parliament.
The respondents have argued that the petitions are not valid because the petitioners themselves, rather than their sureties, signed the recognizances. They are, therefore, arguing that the petitions should be dismissed as invalid.
Astaphan asked the court to determine whether an ambiguity has arisen in view of what he said was an admission by Ben Exeter — who is challenging the Central Leeward results — and what Astaphan said was a concession by lead counsel for the petitioners, Queen’s Counsel Stanley “Stalky” John, of a valid complaint.
The petitioners have presented affidavits indicating that the sureties – Daniel Cummings and Curtis Bowman — understood what they were committing to when they signed the recognisances.
Astaphan, however, asked the court to determine if the petitions are entitled to rely on evidence of the intent of the securities.
The senior lawyer said that the respondents deny that any such ambiguity has arisen in the case, but wanted the court to pronounce on the matter.
“We say no, but in the event your ladyship rules to admit the affidavit evidence, does it disclose any independent objective fact, as in background fact … that shows that Cummings and Bowman in fact acknowledged the undertaking, including the liability to have assets levied and forfeited to the crown before the registrar.”
In their affidavits, Cummings and Bowman outlined their experience in signing education bonds to support their arguments that they understood their undertaking in the petitions matter.
Astaphan asked the court to pronounce on this and is also asking the court to say what is the constitutional mandate given to Parliament on election petitions and whether Parliament provided for security for cost
“Are the provisions mandatory? Can a petitioner be a surety under Section 58 of the Representation of the People Act?” Astaphan said.
He also asked the court to determine whether these provisions require strict compliance and whether the failure to provide prescribed security for cost renders the petitions invalid.
The court has also been asked to determine whether the Chief Justice can, by rules, derogate from the mandatory provisions of the act.
John, who has started his response before the lunch break, argued that the respondent’s motion was an abuse of the process, saying that the motion to dismiss was not discontinued when it was first heard during an interlocutory proceeding before Justice Brian Cottle last year.
The Court of Appeal on March 7 reverted the case to the High Court for hearing before a different judge, having ruled that Cottle showed apparent bias in his decision to throw out the petitions as improperly file.
The new hearing commenced on Tuesday and is continuing today, while parties have been asked to reserve Friday morning for further deliberations, if necessary.
Astaphan said on radio on Wednesday that regardless of the outcome of the current proceeding, the case would again end up before the court of appeal for final determination, because the losing party will appeal.

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