ATTORNEYS for the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and its media company, Central Broadcasting Services Ltd (CBSL), have received conditional leave from the Court of Appeal to take their legal challenge of Trinidad and Tobago’s sedition laws to the Privy Council.
On Wednesday, Justices of Appeal Gregory Smith, Peter Rajkumar and Malcolm Holdip granted conditional leave. The State did not oppose.
In early April, the legal team for the Maha Sabha’s Vijay Maharaj, who took over the case of his late father Satnarayan Maharaj’s estate, and CBSL filed a motion for conditional leave to appeal to the Privy Council.
On March 26, the Court of Appeal overturned a judge’s ruling on sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act. The Appeal Court held the sections did not violate the principles of legal certainty, and met the requirements of valid law.
Sat Maharaj and CBSL filed the constitutional claim after Maharaj made certain statements on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15, 2019. He said citizens living in Tobago were lazy and the men were rapists.
He was not charged, but the Telecommunications Authority (TATT) considered the statements divisive and this led to a police investigation to determine whether the statements were of a seditious nature. Police raided the CBSL’s offices twice. Maharaj said he presumed he would be charged for sedition.
At a media conference after the Court of Appeal ruling, Maharaj’s attorney and legal adviser to the Maha Sabha Dinesh Rambally said it was the late Sat Maharaj’s dying wish that his legal challenge of the sedition laws should go to the Privy Council.
The lawyers intended to argue the Court of Appeal erred in law in its interpretation of the Constitution when it found the sections did not violate the principle of legal certainty.
They contend the Court of Appeal failed to understand, or understand correctly, that “statements spoken or written which ‘may bring into hatred or contempt’ or ‘excite disaffection’ or ‘raise discontent or disaffection or promote feelings of ill will and hostility’ which define seditious intention in the act are extremely broad, hopelessly vague and are highly speculative descriptions of speech or writings or conduct.”
The appellate court which overturned the initial finding of Justice Frank Seepersad in January was also faulted for doing so. Seepersad had held the sections were unconstitutional and inconsistent with the guarantee in section 1 of the Constitution that TT was a sovereign democratic state.
They have argued that TT’s sedition laws were enforced locally but created in the United Kingdom to “prevent criticisms of the king and/or the queen because at that time in England, which was centuries ago, the king and the queen could have done no wrong.”