Fri 7th Jul 2017
The High Court ruling by the Honourable Justice Henry on 30 June 2017 in SVG, that the NDP petitions relating to the SVG General Elections on 9 December 2015 for the constituencies of North Windward and Central Leeward will be heard, is a blessing for our country.
It is a step towards creating real fairness and democracy in SVG.
It is important for our country that we have free and fair elections. The discrepancies at the last general elections were shameful and show our country in a bad light. The judge ruled that the government’s motion to strike out the NDP petitions is an abuse of the process.
It is important that the NDP petitions are heard as soon as possible. Almost 2 years have passed already since the last general election on 09 December 2015. This matter has been dragged out for far too long and for almost 2 years we have had a government whose legitimacy is in doubt.
There should be a law stating that election petitions are heard within a certain amount of days, as in other countries, such as 90 days, for example. There are people in parliament still clutching onto their seats, because of these undetermined petitions, almost 2 years after the general election.
Another important pillar of our society is having a fair judicial system - courts that are not biased. In March 2017, the Court of Appeal ruled that Justice Cottle showed apparent bias in favour of the ULP government, in his decision to throw out the petitions as being improperly filed.
Will Justice Cottle recuse himself from handling the NDP election petitions given his perceived bias, as highlighted by the Court of Appeal? If not, this could erode the public’s confidence in the judiciary.
A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. This prohibition applies to both professional and personal conduct. Therefore, a judge should disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including, but not limited to, instances in which the judge has a personal bias or prejudice.
Given that the Court of Appeal has said that Justice Cottle has shown apparent bias, we have to ask whether he is fit to be a judge in SVG and should be allowed to continue as a judge in SVG. It is imperative that are courts are unbiased, so that everyone gets a fair hearing. The SVG 1979 Constitution Section 8, subsection (8) demands fair hearings for all.
SVG needs to establish an independent electoral commission, as in the UK, to oversee elections and regulate political finance. See www.electoralcommission.org.uk. An electoral commission would also take action when the election rules are broken.
It is important that SVG has free and fair elections and that we can have confidence in the electoral system. We need to correct the weaknesses of our present electoral system to prevent further instances of what happened on 9 December 2015.
Even if the government has the constitutional power to call fresh general elections, in this historic instance, the petitions must be heard before fresh generals elections are held in SVG.