By Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — The Appeal Court in Trinidad is expected to deliver its ruling on Monday in the appeal by the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) and six government members against the election petitions filed by the opposition United National Congress (UNC) to have the September 7 general election results in six constituencies declared null and void.
The appeal was heard earlier this month in Port of Spain by a three-judge panel headed by Chief Justice Ivor Archie. The ruling will be final, since there is no appeal to the Privy Council on election challenges.
In September, High Court judge Justice Mira Dean-Armorer granted the UNC leave to bring the petitions but the EBC and the affected members of parliament for the six constituencies have all appealed that decision. The substantive arguments in the matter have therefore been deferred until the Appeal Court decides whether or not leave to bring the challenges in the first place was properly given.
The UNC has claimed that the constitution does not give the EBC the authority to extend the prescribed voting hours of 6 am to 6 pm due to inclement weather.
According to the UNC, the EBC only has the constitutional power to adjourn the voting process to the following day in the event of election violence.
The UNC claims that an additional hour of voting, purportedly as a result of heavy rain, allowed by the EBC worked in favour of the People’s National Movement (PNM), enabling that party to win the general election.
The EBC, on the other hand, asserts that it is the sole body responsible for governing the voting process and had the authority to extend the voting hours should there be good enough reasons for doing so.
It says that Justice Dean-Armorer erred in law when she granted the UNC leave to present the petitions in the absence of evidence that anyone attempted to vote after 6 pm and were allowed to do so.
If the court finds that the EBC overstepped its constitutional powers, the UNC may then proceed with its challenge.
Following the three-day hearing by the Appeal Court earlier this month, the judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago denounced what it described as “the blatant and unbridled attempt to cast doubt on the integrity and independence of the judiciary and that of its judicial officers in the conduct of their duties, which has arisen from certain quarters of the journalistic community.”
In a press release, the judiciary said that statements made by freelance journalist and former radio talk show host for the state-owned Caribbean New Media Group (CNMG ) Marcia Braveboy in a posting on Facebook were totally false, scurrilously abusive and amount to contempt by scandalising the court in relation to the election petition appeal.
“These unwarranted and nefarious attacks on the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and specifically the honourable chief justice are calculated to engender public distrust in the probity of judicial officers and more so as they relate to the particular matters before the court,” the press release said.
The release emphasised that the judiciary is and continues to be independent and is committed, as it always has been, to preserving the rule of law. It urged Braveboy to cease and desist from reckless statements and insinuations that undermine the administration of justice and the rule of law.
The reaction from the judiciary followed an earlier statement by the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago in relation to Braveboy, who it described as a “United National Congress (UNC) activist”, following her comments on social media regarding the independence of the judiciary and, by extension, Chief Justice Ivor Archie.
The statement, signed by Law Association president Reginald Armour SC, stated: “The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago condemns, unequivocally, the scurrilous attacks on the judiciary of T&T in a recent Marcia Braveboy post on social media… [suggesting] base motives on the part of the honourable chief justice actuated by an ulterior politically partisan agenda.”
“This represents a most serious attack on the judiciary and one which warrants immediate attention by the relevant authorities, with all appropriate action, to protect the independence of the judiciary of T&T and the confidence of the public in the administration of justice and the rule of law,” the statement concluded.
In subsequent postings, Braveboy questioned why she was a “target” of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago and the PNM.
Trinidad judiciary responds to allegations against chief justice