Judge Bernie Stevenson
Judge Bernie Stevenson

The High Court has ruled in favor of the government in a matter that goes back to the last general election held in 2014.

The Dominica Labour Party (DLP) won that election by grabbing 15 of the 21 seats; the United Workers Party (UWP) took six.

After the polls, Mervin Jno Baptiste, Antoine Defoe, and Edincot St. Valle, filed criminal complaints against DLP candidates for treating in the run-up to the election.

In his complaint Mervin Jno Baptiste alleged that government ministers worked together to corruptly, directly and/or indirectly influence the results" of the poll.

He pointed to two free concerts, one featuring three-time Grammy Award winner and international gospel star, Donny McClurkin, and the other by Jamaican Reggae group, Morgan Heritage, that the DLP allegedly used to "corruptly influence" the outcome of the election.

He said this was "in contravention of Section 56 A of the House of Assembly Elections Act which deals with treating.

All 15 elected members of the DLP were named in the complaint.

In her judgment, High Court Judge, Bernie Stephenson said the magistrate who signed the summons erred in law.

In her 20-page decision, Justice Stephenson said where the House of Assembly Elections Act (HOAE) Act makes reference to "summary conviction" for the offence of treating which would mean the complaint is to be heard by the Magistrate, is in conflict with section 40 (1) of the Constitution which provides that any question regarding the election of a candidate to the House of Assembly must be dealt with by the High Court and that this must be done by way of election petition which are subject to very strict rules and procedure, including to the requirement that the complaint must be brought within 21 days of the election.

"The interveners, cannot in the circumstances of this case try to circumvent the requirements of the Constitution of Dominica and the HOAE Act by seeking to file complaints against the Claimants in the Magistrate's Court and charging them for the offence of treating," the Judge wrote.

"I am satisfied that the jurisdiction to question elections or the jurisdiction to question the Constitution of the House of Assembly lies solely in the High Court and therefore the Learned Magistrate acted in excess of his jurisdiction when he signed the complaints, thus his actions are therefore liable to be quashed". She made no order as to costs.

Cara Shillingford, the lawyer for the Interveners, said she was disappointed at the decision and that she will review the decision with her clients and decide on the way forward.

She did not rule out the possibility of an appeal.