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PNM lawyers fear sneak attack

December 31, 2000
By Kim Johnson

ATTORNEYS for PNM candidates Franklyn Khan and Farad Khan have asked the Registrar of Court to inform them if any application is made for interim relief on Winston “Gypsy” Peters and William Chaitan’s constitutional motions.

The lawyers have also asked the Registrar to copy their request to every Deputy Registrar and Assistant Registrar in Trinidad and Tobago.

The PNM team is seeking to stave off any recurrence of what happened in the recent case of Evelyn Petersen—who ironically happens to be the Registrar—versus Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide.

In that case Petersen’s attorneys arranged a settlement with the Attorney General, who is the nominal defendant in every constitutional motion.

“If any application is made for any interim relief in the constitutional motion we want to be told so we could resist,” explains one attorney representing the PNM candidates. “If we just wrote to the Registrar in Port of Spain it won’t prevent them going before a judge in San Fernando or Tobago.

“In the Petersen constitutional motion Ramesh, who as Attorney General was the nominal defendant, went to court with Peterson’s attorneys—de la Bastide didn’t even know the proceedings had been filed—and they agreed to a stay of proceedings.”

Every constitutional motion necessarily names the Attorney General as the defendant.

Gypsy and Chaitan’s motions claim that the PNM election petitions should be prevented because they infringe Gypsy and Chaitan’s constitutional rights.

They argue that Parliament conceded jurisdiction to the courts on election matters subject to certain rules which must be made by the Rules Committee and the President. No such rules having been made, the courts cannot now make them.

Accordingly, the UNC legal team asked the court for “a declaration that the Applicant’s membership of the House of Representatives cannot be lawfully terminated or pronounced against by the judicial arm of the State.”

The case will be heard on January 8, when the two Khans will apply to be party to the proceedings.

“Gypsy and Chaitan are the applicants and the defendant is the Attorney General, we aren’t part of those proceedings,” explains the PNM’s attorney. “In order to be heard we have to apply to the court to intervene, just as de la Bastide had to fight to intervene. If we don’t then the case could be stitched up without us saying anything because it’s himself talking to himself.

“Fortunately the de la Bastide case has set a precedent and there’s a written judgment.”

Gypsy and Chaitan have also asked the court to stay proceedings in election petitions until the constitutional motion is determined.

A stay of execution does not inevitably accompany a constitutional motion—Glen Ashby, unfortunately for him, didn’t get one from the High Court or the Court of Appeal. But the Privy Council did order one, although it came too late for Ashby. And it is unlikely the court will allow the petitions to go ahead while the constitutional motions are undecided.

If Gypsy and Chaitan’s stays are granted, then the election petitions of the two PNM candidates cannot be heard until the constitutional motions are determined. That could take as little as one month or as long as nine months.

Unlike election petitions, which can not be appealed beyond the Court of Appeal, constitutional motions can go all the way up to the Privy Council.

“That way we’ve brought in what the election petitions couldn’t allow—a hearing before the Privy Council,” admits one UNC adviser. “Because people in the party don’t have confidence in the local courts.”

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