A date has now been set for the hearing of the Treating case involving Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and members of his 2015 Cabinet to be summoned and appear in court.
The matter dates back to May of 2015 when, Mervin John Baptiste, Edingcot St. Valle, and the late Antoine Defoe filed a criminal complaint in the Magistrate’s court against the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) candidates for treating in the run-up to the December 8, 2014, general election.
The complainants alleged, contrary to section 56 of the House of Assembly (Elections) Act Cap 2:01 (“the Elections Act”), the government ministers worked together to corruptly, directly, and/or indirectly influence the results of the poll as they pointed to two free concerts, one featuring three-time Grammy Award winner and international gospel star, Donny McClurkin, and the other by Jamaican Reggae group, Morgan Heritage, that the DLP allegedly used to “corruptly influence” the outcome of the election.
Magistrate Bernard Pacquette had issued summons against Skerrit and the other elected DLP members who then sought judicial review of his decision to issue the summons. They argued that the Magistrate lacked the authority to issue them because the offense of treating concerned the validity of the election, and only the High Court could decide this question.
High Court Judge, Justice Bernie Stephenson, decided in favour of Skerrit and his colleagues, ruling that the summons issued were invalid and had them quashed.
The matter was then appealed to the Court of Appeal who by a majority, decision found in favour of the appellants. The court decided that the Elections Act created a summary criminal process and gave the Magistrate power to try and convict any person for treating.
That power the court stated did not intrude on the power of the High Court to rule on questions of the validity of elections and thereby the membership of the House of Assembly.
This ruling was further appealed; Anthony Astaphan SC lead Counsel for Skerrit et all who disagreed and argued that the Magistrate was not entitled to issue the summons or try the alleged offenses because only the High Court could determine questions regarding the qualification of persons to sit in the House of Assembly.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) heard the appeal and held that summary proceedings for treating were not brought to determine the validity of someone’s membership to the House of Assembly; rather, these proceedings were brought to vindicate the criminal law, or in other words, to try someone accused of committing the offence of treating.
Consequently, the Chief Magistrate shall proceed to assign a Magistrate to hear the complaints filed by the Respondents.
By letter dated April 6, 2021, Chief Magistrate Candia Carrette George wrote to Cara Shillingford lawyer for Defoe et al stating that she has since received the relevant CCJ Order through the proper channel and the matter is set to be heard on Thursday 13, May 2021 at court #2 at 9 am and the defendants will be summoned to appear on that date and time.