St Lucian professor Eddy Ventose and three other Commonwealth citizens who had sued the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) for refusing to include their names on the electoral list, have finally registered to vote in the May 24 general election in Barbados.
Chief Electoral Officer Angela Taylor was ordered yesterday by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to ensure that Ventose, the principal applicant in the class action suit, was registered before noon today or risk imprisonment and/or fines.
“All of the litigants in the matter have been registered and have received confirmation that they are on the voters’ list,” attorney Gregory Nicholls, who is part of the legal team representing the litigants, told Barbados TODAY this afternoon.
Nicholls said since the lawsuit was filed, a number of Commonwealth citizens had contacted the legal team advising that they had registered but their names did not appear on the voters’ list, adding that he was not certain about their fate.
“It doesn’t appear as though that the other Commonwealth citizens who would have registered during the special registration period have been put on the list. So that I am not certain what would be the issue or how the issue would be resolved tomorrow, because once the list is published, they are not going to be able to vote. The electoral department would therefore have to explain why people who have applied during the special registration period and who otherwise qualified were not put on the list,” he added.
The attorney said this case had no implications for Barbadians and other Commonwealth citizens living in other Commonwealth countries since “Barbadians all over the world who are in other Commonwealth countries vote ordinarily without any hiccup at all”.
“It seem that the electoral department was being advised by people who are ignorant as to the basis for which the Commonwealth as a grouping of nations gave that right to each others’ citizens who are resident for a qualifying period of time in another country of the Commonwealth,” Nicholls pointed out.
The legal counsel said it was as a result of that ignorance that the EBC had taken the law into its own hands and decided not to register citizens from other Commonwealth countries.
“That is really, really regrettable because . . . I can tell you, I registered when I was in Trinidad and Tobago as a student. I know a lot of students who are currently in the UK and Canada since we started this case who indicated that the mere fact that they are studying overseas in a Commonwealth country, allowed them to register in Canada and the UK, and that has always been the case,” he stressed.
In handing down its judgment yesterday, the CCJ declared in the ruling read by President Sir Dennis Byron, that it was satisfied the legal and regulatory conditions for Ventose’s registration had been met.
Ventose had stated that he was qualified and entitled to be registered to vote, but his registration was consistently refused.
The Court of Appeal here had, on Tuesday May 8, 2018, ruled that the professor of administrative law at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies was qualified to be registered to vote.
However, it stopped short of compelling the EBC to place him on the register of voters, instead giving the Chief Electoral Officer 24 hours to make a determination on his application.
When the EBC again failed to register Ventose, he took the matter to the CCJ, which said its decision should also resolve the matter for other Commonwealth citizens resident in Barbados for the relevant qualifying period, who are also claiming a right to be registered as voters under the Barbados law.
“The longstanding policy of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission in relation to Commonwealth citizens to register as electors only those persons who are Barbadian citizens, permanent residents or holders of immigrant status is unlawful and ultra vires,” Sir Byron declared in the judgment.
It was in February that Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson ruled that Commonwealth citizens who meet the requirements under the Representation of the People Act had a right to vote here.
He had said that any decision to exclude the four Commonwealth citizens 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,” Sir Marston said then, 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 living in the constituency in which they are desirous of voting for three months.”
When contacted Brian Barrow, who is an attorney and an EBC commissioner, said he had no comment to make on the CCJ ruling.