High court judge defends counterpart’s ruling

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St. John’s Antigua- A year and a half after overruling parts of High Court Judge Louise Blenman’s ruling in the Antigua & Barbuda Election Petitions case, Chief Justice Hugh Rawlins has come to her defence as he commended her for the outstanding work she did in the case.

He also imparted some advice that people should not ostracise or criticise the judgments of any adjudicator, even when the Court of Appeal overturns the initial ruling.

The head of the appeal court was responding to a comment by Dr David Henry, an attorney who was speaking at a special sitting in St Kitts.

The sitting was to bid farewell to Justice Rawlins, who resigned in February but will step down on July 31.

“I did hear that because the court of appeal differed from the first instance judge, that the first instance judge would be ostracised,” Justice Rawlins said.  “You know we don’t do that in the judiciary. It is not like that. It is a matter of reasoning, analysis and we can differ and we very often differ.

“But the fact that we had to differ in our analysis does not and will never and should never mean that we differ to ostracise.”

The chief justice, who was appointed in 2008, said the case was one of the most difficult he was involved in since he became a judge a decade ago.

“It was an outstanding judgment. It was one of the most difficult cases that I’ve ever come across in the history of my sitting on the bench,” he said. “It was a judgment which was outstandingly done, notwithstanding we differed.

“Some persons who have not read the judgment are actually criticising and they don’t know what they are criticising. It is amazing isn’t it?”

The judge commended attorney Dr Henry Brown for studying the judgment before expressing an opinion.

He noted that the Court of Appeal departed from Justice Blenman’s ruling “in only two areas” yet many “were critical enough to call for a reversal of the entire decision.”

He added, “Every court of appeal judge who sat on that case myself, Ola Mae Edwards and Janice George Creque – we all respect and commend the judgment that was done by Justice Blenman and that’s why she’s sitting here today.”

At the time, Justice Blenman, who is now an acting appeal justice, was sitting among those bidding Justice Rawlins farewell. The senior judge said, owing to his position, he cannot go into further details about the case.

In 2009, opposition Antigua Labour Party (ALP) election candidates had challenged the victories of three United Progressive Party (UPP) candidates and the seat won by the Barbuda People’s Movement on the grounds that polling started late, there was voting after 6 pm and as such, the results were affected since many voters were disenfranchised.

Justice Blenman was asked to determine whether the aforementioned in fact would have made a difference in who won the parliamentary seats.

The adjudicator had invalidated the elections (of the three UPP candidates) on the ground that she was unable to say whether the elections results were definitely affected by the breaches.

However, in the appeal ruling delivered on October 27, 2010, the appeal justices said it was highly improbable that the late opening of the polls affected the results.

The judges calculated that even if there was a 100 per cent voter turnout, each of the defeated ALP candidates needed much more than half the number of the votes of those persons who did not vote in order to beat the UPP candidates.

The judges made reference to the 2004 general elections in Antigua & Barbuda, where the country recorded its highest ever voter turnout where as high as 90 per cent of the voters participated in the process. They also examined evidence across the region which showed there has never been a 100 per cent turnout at the polls.

Using those statistics, Justice Rawlins had said it was even more improbable that the ALP candidates would have been victorious.

The appeal justices had said Justice Blenman ought to have done a similar statistical analysis instead of dismissing the statistical evidence adduced during the trial.

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