PPP/C challenges validity of APNU/AFC’s election petitions

— coalition says complied with all legal requirements

The ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has asked the High Court to throw out both of the APNU/AFC Coalition’s petitions that challenge the outcome of the March 2, 2020 National and Regional Elections.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall

During the virtual case management conference on Thursday, Trinidadian Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, appearing on behalf of the PPP/C, raised a point in relation to service of the petitions.
He contended that PPP/C’s General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo, who is the fourth named respondent in the case, was not served with the petitions in accordance with established procedures, hence the orders made by the court are not compliant with the relevant rules.
“Essentially, the application will be that the service has not been effected at all on Mr Jagdeo, because the rule that is there to deem the service was not followed in this case,” Mendes indicated.
However, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George explained that an application was made ex parte for substituted service in both petitions, and based on evidence tendered in both petitions, the court reviewed applications and ordered that there be substituted service to be done via registered post for both petitions. She noted that those orders still stand.

Trinidadian SC Douglas Mendes

But according to the SC Mendes, proper service was not followed in either, and flawed service would essentially amount to nonservice, hence both petitions would be a nullity in their entirety.
“While the [court] order stands, the application and order were not in accordance with the rule. In election petition matters, as we would know, the rules are required to be very strictly followed, certainly in relation to service, and the opportunities that are allowed to a petitioner who does not serve within time – of course, as you know My Lady, if you don’t serve within time, the petition is a nullity. The way you get out of the requirement that you served within particular period of time is that you make an application under the rule, and what we’re saying provisionally is that the application and/or the order did not comply with the rule, and therefore service has not been effected properly,” the Trinidadian lawyer asserted.

Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde

However, Mendes informed the court that because his client did not receive all the documents, including the formal court order, this is a preliminary position. As such, he requested time to finalise a position and subsequently file a formal application on this issue, if necessary.
In this sense, the acting Chief Justice had also raised a concern on service during Thursday’s case management hearing. In fact, she pointed out that service of the petition on the second named respondent in the matters – APNU/AFC’s David Granger – was “out of time”.
She pointed out that according to the rules, the petition must be served within five days of filing on the respondents, but the court records show that the petitions were served until September 25, 2020, when they were filed on September 15.
Nevertheless, Justice George asked SC Mendes to make applications/submissions on the issue he raised, and has set dates for the petitioners and Attorney General Anil Nandlall to respond. This matter is fixed for hearing on November 24 and 25.
However, during a press briefing following the case management hearing, Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde, who is part of the legal team in the first petition, is confident that Coalition has complied with all the legal requirements in filing both election petitions.
“I am satisfied that we would have complied with all the legal requirements in relation to the elections petitions and the laws governing them… To clarify, we complied with every material particular in respect of these election petitions,” Forde contended.
The Senior Counsel further told the media that the party is pleased with the fact that the court recognises the urgency in dealing with these matters.
“We expect that these election petitions would be heard and determined quickly and in favour of the petitioners who would have filed them,” he added.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, commenting on Thursday’s hearing, emphasised the importance of the rules and procedures of the National Assembly (Validity of Elections) Act peculiar to the election petitions.
“If there is noncompliance with any of the procedural steps or procedure, or there if any violation of any of the timeframes prescribed for proceedings to be done or steps to be taken, those deviations, those violations, those non-observations of either those rules, regulations, procedures or timeframes, can be fatal and can cause the petition to be dismissed without any further hearing,” Nandlall explained.
The Attorney General, who has a “roving jurisdiction” and has the liberty to address any issue of law, outlined that the procedures for election petitions are far different from the normal civil litigations, where a judge might have the latitude to forgive a violation of noncompliance with timeframes.
“Those jurisdictions and discretions do not exist in an election petition… You get one bite of the cherry so to speak, and if you don’t comply, well, that’s too bad for you,” AG Nandlall asserted.