The Government of Dominica has rebuked the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) following a written judgement in a long-running election petition case, saying the regional body has departed from not commenting on matters it was not called upon to decide and for making gratuitous commentary on political affairs.
This after the CCJ made statements in the judgement in the case involving Glenroy Cuffy & Others v Melissa Skerrit, handed down on 5th July 2022.
That case involved ten election petitions alleging wrongdoing against a number public officers including the prime minister, electoral officers and police officers in the run up to the 2019 general elections held in Dominica.
In it’s judgement the CCJ commented about areas of “grave concerns” over how the elections were conducted, adding that future elections should not be held with such “taints.”
This did not go down well with the government of Dominica who said it was obliged to express disappointment on the matter, calling the comments “gratuitous” and saying that it hopes the CCJ takes appropriate steps to the clarify it and to avoid making commentaries on political affairs.
Background of the case
After the general elections of 2019, Glenroy Cuffy an Others (the petitioners) filed ten election petitions claiming that they were conducted in a manner contrary to established electoral laws and regulations of Dominica.
The respondents applied to have the petitions struck out, saying the petitions did not have sufficient details.
The trial judge agreed and struck out the petitions.
The petitioners then took the matter to the Court of Appeal, questioning the decision of the trial judge.
However, the respondents struck backing saying the Court of Appeal had no authority to hear it. They argued that the based on Sections 40 (6) and (7) of the Constitution of Dominica, appeals are made only against a final decision in law.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the respondents and declined to hear the appeal.
The petitioners then took the matter to the CCJ for special leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision.
The matter was heard by the CCJ which refused the application for special leave and upheld the orders of the Court of Appeal.
It agreed with the Court of Appeal that the petitioners had no right to appeal the decision of the High Court judge to strike out their petitions.
However, the CCJ did not end there, noting there were areas of concerns over how the elections were conducted.
“There remain areas of grave concern about how the process of these elections was conducted. Future elections in Dominica ought not to proceed with these or similar taints,” it wrote in the judgement.
Reaction of Government of Dominica
In response the Government of Dominica stated that the comments by the CCJ had “caused unnecessary discord in Dominica” and they were “wrongly being viewed as an authoritative declaration by the CCJ that the Dominica Labour Party’s general election victory is questionable and have, unsurprisingly, fuelled public debate as to the legitimacy of the government.”
“In making those remarks, the CCJ departed from the sensible, time-honored practice of not commenting on matters it was not called upon to decide,” it said in a statement. “Furthermore, the so-called “taints” over which the Court expressed “grave concern” are nothing but bare allegations on which no findings have been made by any court of law. In the context of the tiny, divided society that is Dominica, it was reasonably foreseeable that such comments from the CCJ would have engulfed the society in dissension.”
The statement added, “The Government of Dominica hopes that given this serious and, no doubt, unintended state of affairs, the CCJ will take appropriate steps to clarify matters and avoid a repeat of this kind of gratuitous commentary on political affairs.”