Case lawyers Anthony Astaphan, right, and James
Case lawyers Anthony Astaphan, right, and James

The 2019 election petition matter filed by Dominica's parliamentary opposition, the United Workers Party (UWP) despite being booted out by the Court of Appeal, will have its day at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The latest ruling came as the CCJ was asked to hear the appeal against the ruling of the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal which dismissed an appeal filed against the decision of High Court Judge Raulston Glasgow.

Notwithstanding much contention on the matter, the CCJ says it has the jurisdiction to entertain the Notice of Application for Special Leave to appeal and the petition will be heard on February 23, 2022.

The matter arose succeeding the December 2019 general elections in Dominica, where the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) emerged victorious. In January 2020, the UWP filed election petitions alleging several irregularities in the election process and sought to have the court overturn the results in St. Joseph, Mahaut, Morne Jaune, La Plaine, Castle Bruce, Salybia, Roseau Valley, Roseau Central, Roseau South, and Wesley constituencies.

The respondents in turn filed applications to strike out the petitions on the basis, inter alia, that the petitions did not disclose causes of action against them and were abusing the process of the court.

The applications to strike out the matter before trial was heard and granted by Justice Glasgow in October 2020 and the election petitions were struck out on the basis that the petitions lacked the necessary details or specificity to disclose causes of action against any of the respondents.

The High Court Judge also awarded costs to the respondents in the sum of $5,000 stating that the petitions could have done that under a single or at the most two petitions, deeming the ten a "waste paper, time, and money to respond to all ten petitioners which were unnecessary."

Discontented, the UWP, in November 2020, appealed the decision claiming that the Judge specifically erred in law.

At the appeal hearing on April 28, 2021, lead counsel for the DLP team Senior Counsel (SC) Anthony Astaphan told the Judges that the court had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeal, asking that the matter be dismissed with cost to the respondents.

Astaphan further argued that it was an abuse of the court process that the petitioners came to appeal the ruling of Justice Glasgow as he insisted that there is no jurisdiction vested in the Court of Appeal to hear and determine the appeals.

However, the attorney for the petition, Zahidha James said this is a matter of public importance with implications for democracy.

She further pointed out a number of the Judge's legal findings which, she says, were erroneous, arguing that the matter before the learned Judge was of great public importance and, therefore, it is not in keeping with the overriding objective and the public interest for the election petition proceedings to end at this stage in view of the judge's errors.

In the judgment of Chief Justice, Hon. Dame Janice Pereira, Hon. Mde. Gertel Thom Justice of Appeal and the Hon. Mr. Gerard St. C. Farara, QC Justice of Appeal [Ag.], the Judges said the application challenging the jurisdiction of the Court to hear an appeal, in circumstances such as the present case, it would be highly unusual for the Court to examine any alleged substantive errors or demerits of the decision of the court below, prior to the determination of the threshold of jurisdiction.

They added that although election petitions involve matters of considerable public interest, there are no legal principles that permit resort to such a course in proceedings of this nature.

The Judges further stated, there is no sustainable argument in this case that the learned judge exceeded the scope of inquiry required on an application to strike, and therefore that his treatment of the respondents' applications to strike out the election petitions transformed his decision into a final decision.

The appeal was dismissed and the petitioners/appellants shall, within 21 days, pay costs to each of the respondents in the sum of $2,000.

Dissatisfied with the ruling, the matter was brought to the CCJ who sided with the applicants Glenroy Cuffy, Dayne Oswald George, and Atherley Robin who are represented by attorney-at-law Queen's Counsel (QC) Alair P Shepherd and Zahidha James.

The respondents include Melissa Skerrit, Ian Anthony, Josephine Lewis, Gerald Burton, Hilary Shillingford, Wayne James, Kondwani Williams, Alick Lawrence, Dominica Broadcasting Corporation, Roosevelt Skerrit, the Attorney General, and the Commissioner of Police.