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The Antigua & Barbuda Saga

5 Apr

PM Baldwin Spencer

The case in Antigua and Barbuda where High Court Judge, Ms Louise Blenman, recently annulled the electoral results in three constituencies in the March, 2009 General Elections in that country. This is one case in which peoples within the English Speaking Caribbean, ought to see the matter of legal recourse to their own local Courts as a fundamental axiomatic legal, constitutional, moral and equitable right. This is a part of a wider political dispensation and process that has been established within a system of the rule of law and natural justice within the region. This right that is being exercised in order to properly settle disputes surrounding national or bi-election outcomes.

Indeed, this is one of the principles that can be identified in this legal case in Antigua and Barbuda. Here the Antigua Labour Party (ALP)some time ago brought applications in the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda against the United People’s Party (UPP) questioning – under S. 44 SS 1(a) and 2(a) of the Antigua and Barbuda Constitution – the then membership in the House of Representatives of Antigua and Barbuda of four members who were elected to duly serve four constituencies that arose out of the 2009 General election on the grounds that there were breaches in certain electoral laws.

The UPP has already successfully applied for, and got, a stay of execution until the 16 of April ( BarbadosToday – 1 April, 2010).

The fourth that was challenged based on the same allegations was the seat of Mr. Trevor Walker of the Barbuda Labour Movement which was however declared valid by Madame Justice Blenman.

Having stated those facts, though, the PDC now turns its attention to some very disturbing and irresponsible comments attributed to one Peter Wickham, in BarbadosToday, where Wickham was reported to have summed up this case as being a part of a trend where some courts (in the said English speaking region ) are aggressive in directly confronting governments. This statement would suggest that these courts and the presiding officers were the ones who brought these cases against the governments and NOT the particular opposition parties.

BUT THE FACTS ARE SUCH THAT THE PARTICULAR COURTS AND THE PARTICULAR JUDICIAL OFFICERS DID NOT BRING THESE APPLICATIONS AGAINST THE PARTICULAR GOVERNMENTS, AND THEREFORE FOR HIM TO HAVE POSSIBLY MADE THOSE INAPPROPRIATE HYSTERICAL COMMENTS AND TO BE REPORTED AS SAYING SUCH IS TOTALLY REPREHENSIBLE.

MR WICKHAM MUST BE TOLD BY THE PDC AND THOSE WHO ARE IN THE KNOW THAT THE COURTS WOULD HAVE BEEN MERELY SEEKING TO CARRY OUT THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL DUTIES, ADJUDICATING IN SUCH CONTENTIOUS MATTERS, BY APPLYING THE PARTICULAR LOCAL LAWS TO THE FACTS IN THEIR RESPECTIVE JURISDICTIONS.

These rulings have NOT made based on any partial political grounds as Mr. Wickham suggests. And in some of these cases, bi-elections have already been held. And, therefore, in these cases where bi-elections have been held or contemplated, say in Jamaica, it would have had to be seen that the decisions of the courts would have had to accepted and upheld by the parties concerned.

So, clearly Mr. Wickham is being unfair and unreasonable and is so in making false reckless imputations against the character and integrity of those particular judicial officers.

This is an abridged version of the PDC Submission which can be viewed fully under the comments “When does a savvy PM call elections?”

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Blind Justice

6 Jan

The retirement of the Chief Justice of Barbados Sir David Simmons has once again raised the issue of politics and the judiciary in Barbados. This intervention would like to create a discussion on some pf the bigger issues about our governance system and the judiciary – not the personalities involved.

It is our understanding that the Constitution of Barbados seeks to give independence to the judiciary through security of tenure. It is expected that once justices have been appointed there would be no threat of removal even if the Government changes. Barbados has had a long history of the judiciary which the public felt that there was no political interference. That has been our legacy. This legacy must be guarded jealously.

Sir David Simmons assumed the post of Chief Justice amid debate as to whether he had been too recently engaged in a very public political role having served in the lower house as a representative for the constituency of St. Thomas. During his tenure there had been no accusation of Sir David making any partisan decisions.

The question has been raised however as to whether we are going down the road of politicizing the judiciary. The issue here has to do with the reason that judges are chosen. Allegiance would hope that this is based on the ability of the Judge in question to dispense justice in an impartial fashion based on a sound knowledge of the relevant law and how it should be interpreted within the broader legal framework of this country.

Now that we have greater access to the Internet many of us would have seen the confirmation hearing of many justices in the USA including Clarence Thomas and most recently Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Sotomayor’s comment about a “wise Latina” caused some debate but at the end of the day she had to be judged on her record.

In 2001 she had said in a speech that total impartiality was an aspiration she also said the following:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences … … our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

This quote was taken out of context … … and we are used to that in Barbados. But in Barbados too we should understand the argument since it has been raised with respect to class, colour and race … … not loudly since in Barbados we never discuss these issues boldly.

Some may argue that the USA system is overly political. Some believed this to be the reason for the outcome in the election decision involving George W. Bush and Al Gore. However it seems that there is a better state of affairs where a judge could be considered liberal or conservative but nevertheless be vetted on their actual decisions – their record. Their ability is not dismissed simply because they might have voted for one party or the other.

In this small society of ours a frightening thing seems to be happening – a delaration of support for a political party seems to completely nullify years of learning, years of experience and years of doing. Any utterance is condemned by the statement – yes he or she would say that because he/she supports the BLP/DLP. And often we participate in the conspiracy and accept this evaluation without more. Can we ever grow forward out of this or are we destined to grow backward?