All Commonwealth citizens who meet the requirements under the Representation of the People Act have a right to vote in Barbados.
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson made the declaration this afternoon in the Supreme Court, as four non-nationals, who have been living here for over a decade, legally challenged their exclusion from the country’s voters’ list.
St Lucian Professor Eddy Ventose, Grenadian Shireene Ann Mathlin-Tulloch, Jamaican Michelle Melissa Russell and Montserratian Sharon Juliet Edgecombe-Miller have been seeking to get their names added to the electoral list in time for the next general election, constitutionally due in a matter of months.
However, they claimed that when they contacted the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC), they were advised that they were not eligible to be on the list, as they did not enjoy permanent residency, immigrant status or citizenship of Barbados.
Today, the Chief Justice ruled that any decision to exclude them would be in violation of Cap 12 of the Act, which does not make it mandatory for the applicants to be permanent residents, immigrants or citizens of Barbados in order to vote.
“Only the Parliament of Barbados has the power to insert those conditions,” the Chief Justice pointed out, while explaining that the only requirements needed for a Commonwealth citizen to vote in Barbados was for that person to be a resident here for three years, and live in the constituency in which they are desirous of voting for three months.
As such, the island’s top judicial officer ordered that Ventose, who had filed a separate suit from the other three Commonwealth citizens, “should be registered with dispatch” as he had met all the requirements.
“The court mandates that the first respondent Chief Electoral Officer shall register the applicant [Ventose] as an elector to vote in Barbados within 14 days of today’s date, as he has satisfied the conditions under Section 7 of the Act,” the Chief Justice said in his ruling.
However, unlike Ventose, the other applicants, Mathlin-Tulloch, Russell and Edgecombe-Miller did not file the necessary application form at the electoral office asking to be placed on the electoral list.
Therefore, Sir Marston said while those three applicants had met all the other requirements he could “not compel” the EBC to register them.
“The decision not to register was unlawful as it violated the provisions in Chapter 12 but they are not entitled to any further relief since they have never applied to be registered,” the Chief Justice ruled.
Following the ruling legal counsel Gregory Nicholls told Barbados TODAY his clients, Russell and Edgecombe-Miller, would file the necessary application at the EBC to be registered as electors.
“And I will say all Commonwealth citizens in Barbados should go to the electoral office within the next couple days and register, as long as you are qualified. That has always been the law and that has always been our case,” Nicholls added.
In the meantime, the court had granted an application by the Crown for “a stay” of the 14-day order with respect to Ventose.
“They haven’t said what the stay was for, but the Court granted it,” Nicholls explained.
Attorneys-at-law Elliott Mottley, QC, and Faye Finisterre represented Ventose, while Bryan Weekes, Wilfred Abrahams and Alexandra Daniel represented Mathlin-Tulloch.
Chief Electoral Officer Angela Taylor was in court today for the judgment. However, she was adamant that her photograph should not be taken as she exited the court house this afternoon followed by her attorneys Principal Crown Counsel Deidre Gay-McKenna and Acting Principal Crown Counsel Anika Jackson. In a caustic exchange with Barbados TODAY, Taylor went as far as to threaten to sue if any photograph of her were taken.
In the last election, there were 247 216 registered electors. However, since then several changes have been made to the Register of Electors as preparations intensify for the general election.
A 76-page supplement to the Official Gazette dated December 25, 2017 recently revealed that the names of 2,836 people ranging in age from 23 to 110 were purged from the register for the period December 1, 2016 to October 31, 2017.
Although the document did not explain the reasons behind the removal of the names, the process is usually carried out when electors die or leave the jurisdiction, and it is not immediately clear how today’s court ruling will affect the overall size of the list.