CCJ slams Barbados electoral authority

CCJ slams Barbados electoral authority
Attorney Gregory Nicholls.
Photo by George Alleyne

Attorneys for Commonwealth citizens living in Barbados out-manoeuvred the island’s electoral authority by getting an urgent appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice and within 48 hours winning the right of these persons to vote in this month’s elections.

Following a recent High Court and Appeals Court ruling that non-Barbadian citizens of the British Commonwealth who were legally resident in Barbados at least three years are entitled to vote, once they apply to be registered, the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) last week however announced that its own interpretation means it is not compelled to register such persons and refused to do so.

With Barbados’ national elections set for May 24, observers believed that the EBC strategy of disobeying a court order would have effectively stopped the eligible non-nationals from being registered in time to vote because hearing in any court challenge to the island’s elections authority would be held past polling day.

But a team of lawyers led by renowned Caribbean jurist Elliott Mottley, QC, on Friday filed an appeal to the CCJ, Barbados’ court of last resort, and convinced that regional authority of the urgency of the matter, resulting in a hearing by Sunday and a slap down of the EBC.

In this unprecedented action of quick hearing the CCJ panel of judges, led by President Sir Dennis Byron, ordered the EBC to register St. Lucian Professor Eddy Ventose, whose name was used as the central person in the challenge, by noon the next day, Monday, and warned Chief Elections Officer, Angela Taylor, “that she may face contempt of court proceedings, which could result in imprisonment and/or fines” if instructions are not carried out.

With the EBC head facing possible jail and no other room left for delaying tactics as the CCJ is Barbados’ highest court, the island’s elections authority duly registered Ventose and the three other non-Barbadian Caribbean and Commonwealth nationals directly involved in the case by noon Monday.

But the EBC still appears to be displaying some degree of stubbornness, as reports are that it has registered only those persons directly named in the case while ignoring applications of other Commonwealth citizens legally resident in Barbados for three years or more.

The EBC’s refusal, so far, to register the other qualified Commonwealth nationals, might be a second example of it flouting a court order.

The CCJ made clear in a press release following the Sunday court hearing conducted by webcast between the Barbados Supreme Court offices and the Trinidad headquarters of this Caribbean court, that its ruling applies to all eligible commonwealth citizens in Barbados.

“The CCJ president expressed the view that the Court’s decision should also resolve the matter for other Commonwealth citizens, resident in Barbados for the relevant qualifying period, who are also claiming a right to be registered as voters under the Barbados laws,” the release stated.

Gregory Nicholls, one of the lawyers in the team that challenged the EBC was reported saying, “it doesn’t appear as though that the other Commonwealth citizens who would have registered during the special registration period have been put on the list.”

Noting that if the names of those thousands are not entered into the voter’s list before its final publication this week, they would not be able to vote, he said “the electoral department would therefore have to explain why people who have applied during the special registration period and who otherwise qualified were not put on the list.”

It is now a matter of waiting and seeing if the team of attorneys led by Elliott Mottley has another manoeuvre up its sleeve to counter this apparent act of EBC stubbornness before that final list of electors gets published.

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