Wednesday, 25 April 2012 02:29
By caribarena news
Antigua St John's - Opposition leader and head of the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) Lester Bird has filed a court claim challenging the legality of recent amendments to the Representation of the People Act.
Named in the suit as respondents/defendants are Attorney General Justin Simon QC, Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission Chairman (ABEC) Juno Samuel, Deputy Chairman Nathaniel “Paddy” James, Jack Kelsick, Anthonyson King, Glendina McKay, E Ann Henry, and Paula Lee.
The matter came up for the first time on Tuesday before High Court judge Justice Mario Michel.
Bird was seeking an injunctive order to prevent the Electoral Commission from meeting and carrying out its functions. However, after submissions by Simon, who represented himself and Patricia Simon-Forde, who appears for the other respondents, one of Bird’s attorneys, John Fuller withdrew the application.
Fuller said that having reviewed the Act, the work of the Commission, the supervisor of elections, and registration officers is extricably linked.
Fuller conceded that if the Commission was prevented from carrying out its functions, the “whole process would come to a halt".
Simon, who was opposed to Bird’s application, said for the Commission's work to be halted until the substantive case is heard would be unreasonable.
The attorney general argued that the Commission’s role and function is a continuing one, and under law, one of its duties is the registration of voters and preparation of the machinery for elections.
“On a balance of convenience, an interruption of that process would be unreasonable," Simon said. "I appreciate and understand the urgency of the claim, but I believe the court can give the necessary directions to have the matter dealt with as expeditiously as the court’s calendar allows."
Simon-Forde also objected to interim relief being granted. She said one of the Commission’s main functions is the preparation of the register of elections.
She told the court that the Commission also oversees the ongoing process of continuous registration.
The attorney submitted that the Electoral Commission was responsible for hearing and reviewing claims and objections, a point Fuller agreed with. The body is also charged with the preparation of preliminary registers and the final register that will be used for a general election.
“Any attempt to restrain the Commission from functioning for any length of time will affect the office and registration on a whole,” Simon-Forde said.
Fuller, in reply, called the amendments an assault on democracy, and said registration would not be held if the Commission stopped functioning.
Bird wants the court to rule in his favour and deem the Representation of the People Amendment Act of 2011, which came into force on December 22, 2011, in contravention of the separation of powers doctrine and sections 47 and 67 of the constitution.
Another relief being sought by the opposition leader claims the appointment of the members of ABEC under the Act is unlawful.
The claim was described as “A declaration that the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act No 12 of 2011 is a colourable device, the substance and effect of which is the removal of Sir Gerald Watt QC and/or circumvent the law and provisions of sections 67 and 47 of the constitution."
It is also “A declaration that the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act No 12 of 2011 is insofar as it concerns the establishment and composition of the Electoral Commission, is unlawful, null and void in that it was passed and enacted into law by a majority of the members of the Parliament in violation of the ad hominem principle and the rule of law and separation of powers doctrine."
The court gave a schedule by which attorneys should have witness statements, affidavits, and exhibits filed in the court and served on each other.
The respondents/defendants (Simon and the ABEC members) should have this done by May 25, while the claimant (Bird) has until June 6 to do this.
Justice Michel said all the parties involved in this case are to attend the trial to subject themselves, if so desired, to cross examination of the contents of their affidavits.
Skeletal arguments are to be filed and exchanged on or before June 22, and a pre-trial review of the matter is set for June 28, when a date for the trial will be fixed.