CCJ ruling in election treating case “a victory for Dominica” – lawyer for Opposition candidates

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Attorney-at-law Cara Shillingford

BROOKLYN, NY – The Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ) decision to reinstate a criminal complaint against winning Dominica Labour Party (DLP) candidates in the 2014 elections has been described by the lawyer representing three losing candidates as a victory for the country that should serve as a fillip for people seeking justice.

Cara Shillingford said she strongly believed her clients, United Workers Party (UWP) candidates Mervin John Baptiste, Edincot St. Valle, and the recently deceased Antoine Defoe, were on the right side of the law, and she had been confident of victory in the case.

The CCJ dismissed an appeal filed by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and other DLP candidates who were successful in the 2014 general elections, reinstating summonses for them to appear in the Magistrate’s Court to answer the charge of treating – directly or indirectly providing food, drink, or entertainment to a person, during or after an election, to influence that person’s vote corruptly.

The UWP candidates’ specific complaint was that the DLP hosted two free concerts in Roseau before the December 8, 2014 elections to influence the public to vote for the party corruptly. They had filed criminal complaints, and a Magistrate subsequently issued summonses against Skerrit and the other elected DLP members.

The MPs challenged that and were successful in their appeal at the High Court, but the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court overturned the decision. The MPs then went to the CCJ, arguing that the Magistrate lacked the authority to issue the summonses because the offense of treating concerned the election’s validity, and only the High Court could decide this question.

However, the appeal was dismissed at the CCJ.

“I think that this is a critical judgment for Dominica,” Shillingford said in commenting on the ruling on DBS Radio soon after the ruling was delivered.

“I feel encouraged to take on other cases because in Dominica currently, there are many things that should be challenged. I wish that this case would encourage other lawyers, other civic-minded citizens, stand up for what is right, stand up for what is, and do the right thing. I wish that persons would be encouraged that there is a justice system that they can turn to.

“I hope that the judiciary would be encouraged as well because this is essentially the Caribbean Court of Justice saying that the judiciary must treat everybody equally, and you cannot treat someone differently because he or she is a Parliamentarian. We live in a society where there is a lot of focus on politics and Parliamentarians seem to be compelling persons, but at the end of the day, these individuals are simply persons elected by the people to lead and to do a job; they are not above the law,” she added.

However, Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan, who represented Prime Minister Skerrit and the other DLP Parliamentarians, saw the ruling differently.

Speaking on the radio station earlier in the day, he said the CCJ judgment would not augur well for future elections in Dominica and the wider Caribbean.

He said the consequences of that decision were “grave, uncertain and liable to cause significant instability in moving forward following an election,” as it would open the door for political parties to use the Magistrate’s Court “as a weapon to harass and to prosecute and persecute and to undermine the continuity of governance and a newly elected government.”

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