Screams and applause echoed in the gallery of the High Court building yesterday afternoon as supporters of the United Progressive Party (UPP) were informed that the court had ruled in favour of maintaining the stay of execution in the Election Petitions Case.
While the UPP supporters jumped and shouted in celebration, the followers of the ALP, who were few in number, left abruptly when the news was delivered.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer showed his satisfaction, saying, “I am not surprised because common sense alone would suggest that it would have been difficult for the judge to do otherwise because the fundamental issue is that we have the right to appeal the judge’s decision and we have taken the necessary steps so to do.”
Spencer is among three UPP parliamentary representatives whose elections were voided by Justice Louise Blenman because of irregularities, mainly late start at the polls on March 12, last year.
The case was brought before the court by members of the Opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP).
Yesterday afternoon, Justice David Harris confirmed the stay of execution of Justice Blenman’s ruling and as such the government continues under the leadership of PM Spencer.
Ministers John Maginley and Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, the other two MPs who were affected by the ruling handed down on March 31, remain head of the Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Education respectively.
“The judge (Justice Harris) had ordered it (the stay) on a temporary basis on March 31 to allow the other side to argue why it shouldn’t be granted. Now he is satisfied there is no justification why the stay shouldn’t remain until the Court of Appeal looks at it,” the prime minister said.
The three UPP members have already filed their Notice of Appeal in the High Court and are waiting for the matter to be heard in the Court of Appeal.
However, there is no indication whether the case would be dealt with in the upcoming June sitting of the appellate court.
Meantime, PM Spencer acknowledged that persons in the society might be concerned about the time the process could take and admitted he too has some concerns.
“Clearly, it is a matter for the court. Remember, we didn’t take the matter to court and we’re prepared to govern Antigua & Barbuda in the interest of country despite efforts from some to destabilise and make governance difficult,” the prime minister said.
He further said, “We will continue to govern in the normal way as we await the decision of the Court of Appeal and at that point in time we will make a determination as to what happens,” Spencer added.
Had Justice Harris denied the stay of execution Spencer, Maginley and Quinn-Leandro would have still had the option of appealing his decision instead of having the Speaker of the House enforce Justice Blenman’s ruling.
Quizzed by the media about his party’s mandate with respect to the court’s ruling on March 31, Spencer rhetorically asked, “Is a by-election or general elections going to solve our problems?” He added that “the behaviour, attitude and degree of acts of destabilization” have created an atmosphere “which would suggest that Antigua should be in a state of instability and also one in which the nation is not governable.”
“We are going through a serious challenge economic-wise and we will continue to function in the best interest of Antigua & Barbuda; that’s what a lot of people keep forgetting – what is in the best interest of the country … we have a clear mandate … as far as I am concerned, we have that mandate.”
Leon Chaku Symister, one of the attorneys for the UPP members said he too is pleased, but the concern now is how “the Antigua Labour Party continues to give a false impression to the people of this country as to how our judiciary works …As the chairman of the party Harold Lovell pointed out the ALP batted in the first innings and were joyous and in the second innings we batted and now we’re joyous…”
Meantime, adding to the remarks of both Spencer and Symister, Maginley said he was satisfied with the court’s ruling and he’s confident that the appellate court would make a determination favourable to the UPP on the premise that nearly 80 per cent of the people voted in each of the affected constituencies.
Trinidad-based Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes along with Kendrickson Kentish and Symister represented the UPP members while Hugh Marshall Jr and Rika Bird formed the legal team for the ALP members.