The United National Congress (UNC), four years after it lost the San Fernando West parliamentary seat to the ruling People’s National Movement, has now lost its application to set aside a Court of Appeal ruling in its election petitions challenge.
Justices of Appeal Gregory Smith, Peter Rajkumar and Mark Mohammed, on Thursday delivered a unanimous ruling at the Hall of Justice.
Rajkumar wrote the judgment with Smith adding to it, separately.
The UNC filed the application on April 15, 2019, seeking to have the appellate court’s earlier ruling in the election petition matters set aside on the ground of the apparent bias of Chief Justice Ivor Archie.
He was accused of failing to disclose he corresponded with the Prime Minister on recommendations he made to the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) for several people.
In their decision, the judges found that there was no bias on the part of Archie when he sat on the election petition appeals.
The UNC’s challenge came more than two years after the dismissal of the party’s original legal challenge to PNM wins in six parliamentary constituencies.
Lawyers for San Fernando West voter Dr Shevanand Gopeesingh, a UNC member, filed the 514-page application complaining of allegations against Archie, who sat on the panel of judges which dismissed the election petitions in October 2016.
The UNC had previously challenged the results in the constituencies of San Fernando West, Tunapuna, St Joseph, Toco/Sangre Grande, Moruga/Tableland and La Horquetta/Talparo. All the challenges were dismissed.
Gopeesingh said had the petitions succeeded on appeal, the litigation had the potential to alter the election results by unseating the PNM.
The party won 23 of the 41 seats in the House or Representatives in the September 7, 2015 general election.
In the decision, Rajkumar maintained that the court was not required to make any findings of facts based on the evidence provided to the court, which included copies of the Law Association’s report on its own investigations of the complaint against Archie.
He also referred to Archie’s press release on the issue in which he admitted making referrals to the HDC, and the PM’s denial of receiving communication from the CJ.
The judge also pointed out that guidelines had been established for judicial conduct, adding that even if the fair-minded observer maintained any lingering perception of the post-election follow up communications with the HDC, a logical connection had not been convincingly articulated.
Smith said the material provided to the court “did not give rise to the level of cogency required to dislodge the presumption of impartiality of the Chief Justice when he sat on the appeals.”
He also added that whether or not the CJ transgressed the guidelines for judicial conduct, it had no impact on the case of apparent bias.
In dismissing the UNC’s application, the judges ordered Gopeesingh to pay San Fernando West MP Faris Al-Rawi’s legal costs as well as the costs of the returning officer for the constituency. However, the costs will cover only one senior counsel and one junior counsel for each team.
Gopeesingh was represented by British Queen’s Counsel Richard Clayton, Anand Ramlogan, SC, Che Dindial, Douglas Bayley and Ganesh Saroop.
Al-Rawi was represented by Reginald Armour SC, Vanessa Gopaul, Ravi Nanga, Michael Quamina and Zelicia Haynes-Soo Hon. Senior Counsel Russell Martineau and Deborah Peake and attorneys Ravi Heffes-Doon and Alana Bissessar represented the returning officer.