Attorney-at-law Gregory Nicholls is warning the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) that there will be hell to pay if it persists in “blatantly ignoring” the Court of Appeal ruling on the eligibility of qualified Commonwealth citizens to vote in the May 24 general election.
After the EBC insisted yesterday that it would not budge on the issue, Nicholls fired back today, stating that the electoral management body was flirting with danger and would “suffer the consequences of their actions”.
The guardian of the island’s electoral process said yesterday through attorney Bryan Barrow, who is a Commissioner, that it would hold firm to its position that Commonwealth citizens residing here are not eligible to vote unless they have permanent residence or immigrant status.
This was in response to a ruling this week by Justices of Appeal Kaye Goodridge, Andrew Burgess and Margaret Reifer that the EBC is prohibited from relying on its longstanding policy as the criteria for determining electors’ eligibility, and must instead only rely on Sections 7 and 11 of the Representation of the People Act to determine eligibility.
An upset Nicholls told Barbados TODAY this morning not only was the commission looking for trouble, it was also being “disingenuous” and was lying to the public about the court’s ruling.
“They are being disingenuous and they are telling lies. The ruling of the court is clear and their attorney is misleading the public. I am not arguing with them any further because the court specifically said that the [EBC] is prohibited from using that policy. So I have nothing more to say to them because they will suffer the consequences of their actions,” Nicholls said.
The Commission 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 EBC 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 also said at the time that any decision to exclude them would be in violation 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 had said, going on to explain that the only requirements needed for Commonwealth citizens to vote here was for them to be resident in Barbados for three years and living in the constituency in which they are desirous of voting for three months.
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 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 Nicholls, one of the lawyers who represented the four Commonwealth citizens, interpreted the Supreme Court’s ruling differently.
“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 refused to 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.
However, this morning Nicholls revealed that the St Lucian professor was told that he did not meet the qualification requirements to register as a voter. He also said the other individuals in the class action suit were not included on the preliminary voters’ list but have since submitted objection forms.
The lawyer said while there was little that could be done to hold the EBC’s feet to the fire before the election, which is under two weeks away, the electoral management body could very well end up having to fork out large sums of money to disenfranchised voters.
“The fact of the matter is that time was always against us so the Electoral and Boundaries Commission can afford to play fast and loose with the processing of these applications. I am not sure how effective the fight is going to be before election. At the most you can object and if they don’t approve the objection then you would have to go court where you could get monetary compensation. By that time the election would have already been passed,” Nicholls explained while expressing no interest in seeking to hold up the election while this matter plays out.