No new elections as T&T Appeal Court rules against UNC petition

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(Trinidad Express) Thirteen  months later, and the result of the 2015 General Election is now official. The Peoples’ National Movement (PNM) won 23 seats to the United National Congress (UNC) 18 seats.

There will be no by-election in five constituencies, since the Appeal Court yesterday afternoon struck out the elections petitions filed by the UNC which was seeking to declare five seats null and void, thereby forcing a return to the polls.

trinidadJudgment in the case was handed down by Chief Justice Ivor Archie in the Hall of Justice. Archie, and Justices of Appeal Allan Mendonca and Peter Jamadar, had heard the matter in the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain over three days, beginning on Monday.

It brings to an end the matter, since in election cases, there can be no further appeal to the Privy Council in London.

In an oral judgment which came about two hours after the final legal submission was made, Justice Archie said the Appeal Court had upheld the ruling of Justice Mira Dean Armorer who on August 19, dismissed the election petitions filed by the UNC which sought to declare the results in five constituencies null and void as a result of a decision of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to extend the voting time by one hour, on September 7, last year.

Justice Archie said that while the EBC did exceed its power by extending the voting time, it was not so outrageous a breach to declare the election result null and void.

The judge said that the Appeal Court had to consider whether the election was held in a free and fair manner, and after reviewing hundreds of pages of evidence, the judges arrived at the unanimous decision that it was held in a free and fair manner despite the decision of the EBC to extend the voting time.

Justice Archie also said that the UNC did not present any evidence to suggest that the extension of time was done to favour any political party.

Justice Archie said that any amendment to the law to broaden the powers of the EBC should something similar happen in future, was a matter for the Parliament and not the Judiciary.

Justice Archie also explained why the judgement was delivered today. He said the judges did not want to keep the population unsure about the legality of the election.

A written judgement will follow, he said. In Justice Dean-Armorer’s August 19 ruling, she said: “I have, in these Petitions, strove to hold the balance to protect the will of the majority while ensuring that the patent mistakes have not reduced the election of 2015 to a mere sham. For reasons stated…it has been my view that the election of 2015 in Trinidad and Tobago were substantially in accordance with the prescribed law and it does not appear to me that the breaches affected the results. It is therefore my view and I hold that the Petition should be and is hereby dismissed”.

However, in her ruling Justice Dean-Armorer said that there was nothing in law that gave the EBC the power to extending the voting hours and that it acted unlawfully, and that the decision of election officers to extend the voting time past 6p.m. was not lawful. “Torrential rains and flooding on 7th September, 2015, may have impelled the EBC to issue the directive they did. Nonetheless, the uncontrollable weather conditions did not confer on the EBC the power to direct that the law be broken.

The EBC, itself a creature of statute, ought at all times to abide by the clear dictates of the law and ought not to purport to dispense with those dictates even if faced with an apparently insurmountable problems.

Accordingly, it is my view and I hold that the extension of the poll on the 7th September 2015 was illegal and election officers who failed to close the poll at 6p.m. acted in breach of Section 27(1) of the Election Rules”.

However, the judge said that based on the overall conduct of the election, this was the only breach, and that based on the number of voters who cast their ballot between 6p.m. and 7p.m.

It meant the outcome of the results would not have been different had the polls closed at 6p.m.

The judge said that the breach was not committed out of malice but to accommodate the electorate due to an “act of God” (bad weather) over which the EBC had no control.

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