Madame Chief Justice, it is Three Years
"Laws are like cobwebs," said Anacharsis (c 600 BC), "for any trifling or powerless thing falls into them, they hold fast; but if a thing of any size falls into them, it breaks the mesh and escapes".
We cannot blame Dominicans for assuming that the dual citizenship case against Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and his education minister, Petter St. Jean, using Anacharsis' analogy, has broken the mesh and escaped. After all it's been three months since the appeal judges of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) heard the appeal and, astonishingly, it has been more than three years since Dominicans voted in a legal or illegal election. Madame Chief Justice, you will undoubtedly agree that this is an inordinately long period even for a court where the wheels of justice grind slowly.
As we opined about a year ago, many persons anticipated that the focus of this politically charged Dual Citizenship case would shift to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal but few would have anticipated it would have taken so long.
It is apparent that the Chief Justice of the ECSC did not take note of the tardiness of the lower court and, in the interest of justice, direct the judges of the appeals court to adjudicate on the matter as quickly as possible. Instead, it is obvious to many Dominicans that they are being denied justice since they have been subjected to that inordinate wait for closure to this extremely divisive issue. Dominica needs to begin to heal from the wounds of the general election campaign of December 2009.
Undoubtedly, you are aware by now that on January 10, 2012, Justice Gertel Thom dismissed two petitions brought against parliamentary representatives Skerrit and St Jean of the ruling Dominica Labour Party. She stated in her judgment that Ronald Green of the Opposition United Workers Party (UWP), the petitioner, failed to establish a prima facie that St. Jean was by virtue of his own hands under acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state in contravention of Section 32 of the Constitution of Dominica. She added that there was no admission by St. Jean either expressly or implicitly that he had acquired, renewed or travelled on a French passport.
Similarly, Justice Thom wrote, in her 49 page judgment, that Maynard Joseph of the UWP, the second petitioner, who challenged Prime Minister Skerrit's nomination as a candidate for the Vieille Case constituency in the December 2009 general election, also failed to lead any evidence to show that Mr Skerrit was by virtue of his own act under allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state and thus Skerrit was not disqualified from contesting the election for the seat in the Vieille Case constituency.
Nevertheless, a team of legal luminaries who discussed Judge Thom's ruling were of the opinion that the judge had "handcuffed" and "blindfolded" herself when she decided to disallow a request for Skerrit and St. Jean to testify during the trial on grounds that they might incriminate themselves. She also rejected a subpoena of the respondent's passports to verify whether Skerrit and St. Jean received their French passports when they were children or when they were adults. These are the essential points that the judges of the ECSC are evidently taking forever to rule on.
We observed too that at the commencement of the trial, on the submission of Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, the petitioners' lawyer, Justice Thom ruled that the standard of proof in the case would be "on a balance of probabilities" and not the standard of proof in a criminal court, that is, proof beyond reasonable doubt. Yet it seems to many persons, including the panel of legal experts, that Justice Thom applied the beyond-reasonable- doubt standard when she ruled that the UWP did not provide sufficient evidence that Skerrit and St. Jean had disqualified themselves from contesting the December 2009 poll by being under the under acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state. It is our view that on the so-called balance of probabilities standard, ordinary persons could infer from the evidence presented at the trial that the two respondents were indeed disqualified.
For instance, Justice Thom argued that a letter that St. Jean and Skerrit wrote, on November 30, 2009, to the Ambassador of France in St. Lucia requesting the immediate renunciation of their French Citizenship does not prove that the gentlemen had in fact incriminated themselves in the context of the case. In these letters, St. Jean and Skerrit stated that they were regretfully making formal requests for renunciation of their French citizenship and that a recent court decision in Jamaica had raised some new questions about dual citizenship.
Justice Thom agreed with the submission that St. Jean was referring to the Dabdoub v Vaz case in which Vaz was disqualified as an election candidate because he travelled as an adult on a United States passport. But the judge ruled that there was no evidence to show that St. Jean received the French passport during the 2000 to 2002 period as Green contended. Many persons disagreed with Justice Thom's conclusion and anxiously await the decisions of the appeal judges of the ECSC. But why is it taking so long?
We were hoping that the judges of the Supreme Court would demand a retrial of the case so that the High Court could examine the passports of the two parliamentarians and also order them to take the witness stand. Only then would the majority of Dominicans be assured that Skerrit and St. Jean were indeed qualified to contest the 2009 elections and become representatives of their respective constituencies. But now it appears to be too late for any decision by the judges to be meaningful. Mr. Skerrit's term is almost over, especially if he calls election before it is constitutionally due.