Lawyers concerned about Commonwealth voting case holdup

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Some attorneys-at-law involved in a landmark case surrounding the rights of Commonwealth citizens to vote here are expressing concern over delays related to environmental conditions at the Supreme Court.

With the date for the general election drawing closer – although Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is yet to announce the date, the poll is constitutionally due by early June – lawyers for the respondent are worried the matter may not be settled before Barbadians go to the poll.

The Electoral Boundaries Commission (EBC) and Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Angela Taylor are appealing a ruling by Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson back on February 26, that Commonwealth citizens who meet the legal requirements under the Representation of the People Act are entitled to vote here.

“We are very concerned about the passage of time now. As the election draws closer it narrows the timeline to see this case through to all levels of appeal if necessary. But we are pressing for this case to be heard because it is of critical importance and it concerns the rights of individuals to vote,” attorney-at-law Wilfred Abrahams told Barbados TODAY this evening.

Abrahams is among a team of lawyers, including Gregory Nicholls, representing Grenadian Shireene Ann Mathlin-Tulloch, Jamaican Michelle Melissa Russell, Montserratian Sharon Juliet Edgecombe-Miller and St Lucian Professor Eddy Ventose, who have been seeking to get their names added to the electoral list in time for the poll due by June.

The Chief Justice had ordered that Ventose be “registered with dispatch” within 14 days as he had met all the requirements, but said Mathlin-Tulloch, Russell and Edgecombe-Miller had not filed the necessary application form at the electoral office and Sir Marston said then he could “not compel” the ECB to register them.

The EBC had applied for stay of the order for 14 days and launched an appeal of the decision.

That matter was set to be heard in the Appeals Court today. However a two-day shutdown of the Whitepark Road, St Michael complex following protest by workers over environmental conditions, has left the matter in limbo.

Abrahams who expressed concern at the plight of the workers, said it was time for court authorities to think outside the box, because “for a case as important as this no stone should be left unturned in order to get the case heard in such a time that it is actually relevant to the election”.

“We will accommodate the court with any arrangements to have this matter heard. Whatever compromise the court can find to get the matter dealt with, then we are flexible and receptive to it because as far as we are concerned it does not matter where it is heard and what time it is heard, the critical thing is that it is heard,” he told Barbados TODAY.

He also weighed in on an application before the court filed by Ventose’s attorney Leslie Haynes, QC, over the failure of the ECB and the Chief Electoral Officer to register Ventose as per the Chief Justice’s ruling.

“What the CEO and the EBC needs to understand is that they don’t have discretion to try to interpret the law. They have to apply the law as it stands and do what the law says. The judgment of the Chief Justice clarifies what the law is and they have no discretion but to follow that.

“If it was me, I would be processing the applications and doing the work so that in the event that is finally resolved it will be easy to deal with those who have applied as oppose to having to start the process and I am not sure that they are actually processing applications as it stands. And if they are not doing that then they may actually be guilty of a criminal offence,” Abrahams said.

Haynes has asked the court to “commit” Chief Electoral Officer Angela Taylor to Dodds “for a period of time for contempt of court”.

The urgent application, which was made on Tuesday, is expected to be heard on Monday April 16.

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