Skerrit’s lawyers want new witness statements dismissed

ROSEAU, Dominica: Lawyers representing Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and his Education Minister Peter St. Jean have asked a High Court to throw out new witness statements that were filed one week before the trial opened here on Monday.

The main opposition United Workers Party (UWP) wants the Court to declare that both Skerrit and St. Jean were illegally nominated to contest the December 2009 general election because they held dual citizenship at the time.

The subpoenas filed by the opposition party are intended to force the prime minister and his senior cabinet colleague to give evidence in court, but their attorney, Queen’s Counsel Anthony Astaphan, told Justice Gertel Thom that the subpoenas were a “naked fishing expedition”.

He argued that the petitioners are bound by the petitions and should not seek assistance from either Skerrit or St. Jean, and referred to the subpoenas as an abuse of the process.

Astaphan told the court that the 13 new statements were improper, an abuse of the process and should not be allowed.

“I don’t think that is acceptable at all,” Astaphan said, arguing further that the deputy registrar who signed the subpoenas had no jurisdiction to do so in an election court.

He said there is nothing in the Act that authorizes the court to compel his clients to give evidence and that nothing that was filed by the petitioners showed evidence that Skerrit or St. Jean travelled on a French passport.

He told the court that the 13 new statements were filed by the petitioners on August 30, beyond the time in which they could have taken such action.

Astaphan argued that the Act makes provision for disqualification and provocation and he was not prepared to sit idly by and allow the court to be taken for a ride.

He said that some of the witness statements came from candidates which are not allowed under the Act.

Astaphan said that the UWP president and former prime minister Edison James made no reference to passports when he spoke at a November 30, 2009 meeting but that the petitioners are making reference to that statement.

Senior Counsel, Trinidadian Douglas Mendes, who is representing the petitioners, argued that the issue of subpoena is a right to the parties of a proceeding and the election court judge had the same privileges and jurisdiction as a high court judge and therefore their subpoenas should not be set aside.

He told the court that the subpoenas to Skerrit and St. Jean were relevant to what those who brought the petitions say disqualify them from sitting in parliament.

Mendes said there were no ulterior motives but were merely to ensure that people in parliament are not disqualified and that the Dominica Constitution is upheld.

On the issue that Skerrit was only served half an hour before the start of High Court proceedings another attorney, Stuart Young, one of the Trinidad-based lawyers for the petitions, said the petitioners had tried nine times unsuccessful to do so.

Justice Thom in an earlier judgment had dismissed an application brought by defeated UWP candidates Ron Green and Maynard Joseph seeking to have Skerrit and St. Jean produce their passports in court.

Mendes is leading the three-member UWP legal team that also includes Young and local attorney Geoffrey Letang, while Astaphan is leading a team that includes Heather Felix Evans.

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