Saturday, April 10, 2010

The courts of Antigua Jamaica and Dominica

By Dr Emanuel Finn

The last half of the twentieth century has witnessed a significant increase in global migration and dual citizenships as a key dynamic of globalization.

World borders have become more fluid for capital, investment and movement of people. The United Nations Population Division (UNPD) estimates that 185 million people have lived outside their country of birth for at least 12 months since the mid-70s.
PM Spencer
An Antiguan court ruled against Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer.

But mass migration, dual citizenship and election irregularities are causing legal issues for some who are holding and vying for high office in the Caribbean archipelago.

Today the constitutions and courts of these islands in the sun are struggling to legally redefine and rule on these new political realities while trying to maintain their own clear definitions of sovereignity and territorial integrity.

Such was the case in Jamaica during the 2007 general elections. After the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) defeated the People’s National Party (PNP) in the West Portland Constituency, the opposition called on the High Court to remove the Member of Parliament on the basis of his dual citizenship with the United States.

After a protracted legal battle, the court ruled in favour of the PNP and barred JLP’s Daryl Vaz from holding a seat in the House of Representatives.

In its judgment, the court ruled that the fact that Mr. Vaz had renewed his American passport indicated that he had pledged allegiance to another country. It ordered a by election in which Mr. Vaz could be a candidate if he renounced his American citizenship.

But Mr. Vaz’s PNP opponent Mr. Abe Dabdoub, expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome saying that the fact that his rival knowingly broke the laws and violated the constitution, should be enough to bar him from participating in future elections.

Mr. Dabdoub said, ‘The responsibility to ensure that all candidates in an election are eligible lies squarely with the office of Elections, the party's leader(s) and the candidates.

There is no If Mr. Vaz had broken any laws; he had. The Constitution is clear and the court's decision is a testament to that.’ Mr. Vaz renounced his U.S citizenship and won the March 2009 by election by a wider margin.

The ruling against the government demonstrated the Jamaican court’s fairness, independence, leadership and courage. The Antiguan courts have followed that precedence.

Two weeks ago a Judge in St. Johns nullified the election victories of the PM and two of his ministers for election irregularities. The Spencer government has since appealed the decision and his party continues to govern.

In Dominica the opposition filed five petitions against the Labour party government for alleged irregularities in the 2009 elections including PM Skerrit’s dual citizenship.

But Skerrit’s lead attorney has asked the court to strike out the petitions against his client and the government.

The attorney is also waging a vigorous PR campaign by trying the case in the court of public opinion and preventing it from being heard in the court of law.

Legal experts and sources who are familiar with the case indicate that the government has some holes and gaps in its defense.

But if the court grants Skerrit and his attorney their wishes, that would be a colossal mistake.

It would demonstrate a lack of respect for the constitution, laws and people. The courts would send shock waves through the entire region and world.

It would almost certainly throw the debate over the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and Privy Council into further disarray.

Can you hear the background rumblings? Skerrit and the compromised Dominican courts can have their CCJ but let us keep our Privy Council.

It would demonstrate that as a people and region with a painful history, we have not attainted the maturity to attain self determination.

Do we need the Law Lords of the Privy Council to hand down a fair decision?
I don’t think we should doubt the CCJ as the ultimate legitimate court.

Now is the time to allow ourselves to mature as a nation and region and take on the challenges of an ever evolving society. The Antiguan and Jamaican courts have respectfully answered that courageous clarion call.

Next up to ‘bat’ is Dominica’s court. The world is watching and paying very close attention.

If the court throws out the petitions and allows Skerrit (who became the accidental PM after the quick and sudden deaths of PMs Douglas and Pierre) to remain in office having probably knowingly broken the laws as he proclaimed in December, then our country may be in trouble.

It will be an empty victory for Skerrit and his die-hard supporters who can’t see (and many sadly can't grasp) the potential long term consequences.

It would mean that he would be occupying the office of the Prime Minister without heed or respect for the constitution. That is a text book formula for disaster.

The Dominican courts need to heed President Obama’s advice. ‘We need not fear the future, we should shape it; we need not avoid responsibility we should embrace it, and when we do, we will answer the call of history’.

The petitions are about Dominica and not about PM Skeritt, Mr. Ron Green and the opposition. The ‘take home' message is that having power and popularity should not mean you cannot be touched by the legal system.

The court should be mindful that it does not reinforce the reality that myopia, insecurity, greed, nepotism and narcissism are the ingredients, which when combined with platform politics spawn the average politician we get.

Long gone are those Members of Parliament like Premier Le Blanc who inspired the level of nation building and enthusiasm, which led our parents to believe tomorrow would be better. Today we have a lot more than our grandparents ever dreamt possible.

The question is more of what? We are certain that we have more mouths capable of producing “podium-promises” designed to placate a populace and country whose only desire is good and ethical leadership.

We owe it to future generations to use intelligence and patience with respect for the process of law in order to birth a society based on fairness and justice. They need not inherit the effects myopia where party politics took presidency over country.

Whatever the petitions’ final outcomes if they are heard, our people and country will be the victors. Education and sacrifice, like freedom is not cheap.

The petitions provide our county an excellent opportunity to learn, and become more reliably informed of the politics, policies, laws and constitution of our homeland. The time to achieve practical long term change and reform of our political system is now. The future of our nation and region is in our hands.
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So now ye, of diminishing surname and even less faith in "Dominica courts", are now a legal "export"!
Ah well, they do say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

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