The Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) is holding firm to its position that Commonwealth citizens residing here are not eligible to vote in the May 24 general election unless they have permanent resident or immigrant status.
In addition, they have to be residing in the country for a period of at least three years immediately before the qualifying date.
Bryan Barrow, the attorney for the electoral management body, today said Caribbean Community (CARICOM) nationals who reside and work here on the CARICOM skills certificate did not qualify to vote in the general election.
The EBC has been embroiled in a legal battle over its stated policy to deny voting rights to Commonwealth citizens who reside here, but are not permanent residents or citizens of Barbados.
St Lucian Professor Eddy Ventose, along with Jamaican Michelle Russell, Grenadian Shireen Ann Mathlin-Tulloch and Montserratian Sharon Edgcome-Miller, all of whom have been living here for over a decade, sued the commission for excluding them from the voters’ list.
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson ruled in February that Commonwealth citizens who meet the requirements under the Representation of the People Act have a right to vote in Barbados.
The Chief Justice 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.
The other applicants, unlike Ventose, had not filed the necessary application form at the electoral office asking to be placed on the electoral list, therefore, Sir Marston said at the time, while they 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 [of the Act] but they are not entitled to any further relief since they have never applied to be registered,” the Chief Justice ruled.
The EBC appealed the decision and the Supreme Court issued a ruling this week which Barrow said had quashed all of Sir Marston’s orders, while Gregory Nicholls, one of the lawyers who represented the four Commonwealth citizens, interpreted the Supreme Court’s ruling differently.
“From that summary [of the ruling], I gathered that the court has struck down the policy of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which requires Commonwealth citizens to be either resident in Barbados or permanent residents or as immigrants before they can vote,” he said.
“So therefore we are very satisfied that the primary reason that we went to court has been upheld by the Court of Appeal of Barbados,” he added, while admitting the Court of Appeal held that Sir Marston was wrong to rule that the EBC had refused to register the three other claimants as electors because they did not fill out an application prior to filing the substantive case in the High Court.
However, today Barrow said since the four claimants had applied to be registered based on the fact that they were holders of the CARICOM skills certificate, which falls under the Treaty of Chaguaramas, and which was not discussed during the hearing, they still did not qualify to vote here.
“The particulars of this case involve Commonwealth citizens who are also CARICOM nationals calling into the office asking if they could register with a . . . skills national certificate. After hearing that this was not a document that was accepted, they then proceeded to the law courts. It has always been our contention that this was not a refusal. At the Court of Appeal on Monday this was confirmed that it was not a refusal,” Barrow told a news conference as the EBC sought to clear the air.
Dismissing reports that it was now okay for Commonwealth citizens to vote despite not having permanent resident or immigration status, and that the EBC’s decision not to register them was unlawful, Barrow said the court ruling was clear.
“The court of appeal found that no decision had been made and therefore there could have been no refusal to register any person. So to say that we unlawfully register people is incorrect. That did not happen,” he insisted.
“The court of appeal went on to say that our policy of only accepting documents in relation to permanent residents and immigration status was ultra vires [beyond the commission’s legal power or authority], they never used the word unlawful, and they asked us to make a determination with respect to Professor Ventose, whether or not he should go on the register and that decision was communicated to Mr Ventose within the requisite time period,” the lawyer said, without revealing what was said to Ventose.