Dominica judiciary ‘alive and well’
ROSEAU – The Dominica Bar association (DBA) Tuesday sought to reassure citizens that the independence of the judiciary “is alive and well” after High Court Judge Bernie Stephenson said she would recuse herself from hearing the election petitions filed by the main opposition United Workers Party (UWP) following its defeat in the December 6, 2019 general elections.
“The DBA has been made aware of recent statements made on the radio and on social media alleging bias against a sitting judge and demanding that the judge recuse herself from hearing a striking out application brought by the government…against election petitions filed with regard to the…general elections,” the DBA said in a lengthy statement.
Earlier, Senior Counsel Tony Astaphan described as “a great sense of disappointment and sadness” the decision by Justice Stephenson, to recuse herself from hearing the election petitions..
Astaphan told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the recusal “was not based on any jurisprudential, in my view based on what I have seen and heard so far, factual or legal basis because the suggestion that Madam Justice Stephenson has had any bias against the United Workers Party is absolute nonsense,” said Astaphan, the government’s senior legal adviser.
The UWP was trounced 18-3 by the Roosevelt Skerrit-led Dominica Labour Party (DLP), which regional and international observer teams had said reflected the will of the Dominican voter.
According to the petitions, the party is contesting the results in the Roseau South, Roseau Valley, Roseau Central, Mahaut, St Joseph, Kalinago Terriroty, Morne Juane, La Plaine, Castle Bruce and the Wesley constituencies.
The hearing for the government’s strikeout application is carded for Wednesday.
Opposition leader, Lennox Linton, had called for the judge’s recusal, claiming that her record of performance in matters brought against the government over the years required that she recuses herself from this matter.
“Bernie Stephenson cannot be fair; she cannot be impartial; she cannot be independent; she cannot be objective where the dispensation of justice as it involves the United Workers Party in Dominica is concerned and she should recuse herself from this matter,” Linton said.
Former president of the Concerned Citizens Movement and activist, Loftus Durand, had also written to the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC), Dame Janice M. Pereira requesting that Justice Stephenson be replaced in that matter by another justice of the ECSC.
He said that one of the reasons for his request is that Justice Stephenson’s 11-year posting in Dominica and that “by having such a long stint in Dominica, Justice Stephenson has become too involved and engrossed in the country’s affairs”.
In its statement, the DBA said “our justice system as it relates to the independence of the judiciary and the dispensation of justice in Dominica and in the region enjoys a reputation that all and any person seeking justice can have full confidence in.
“The Court system is adversarial by nature. This means that parties in litigation go to trial, at the end of which the court determines the winner and the loser,” the DBA said, adding “any party who is dissatisfied with the decision of a sitting judge, at first instance, has the right to appeal that decisions to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, and if also dissatisfied with the decision….to appeal to our final appellate court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)”.
The DBA said it wishes to “assure the public that the rule of law, in particular the independence of the judiciary is alive and well in the Commonwealth of Dominica”.
It said that it also wanted to urge all citizens, including members of its own legal fraternity” to show due respect and regard for the judiciary which is a critical institution for preserving our democracy.
“The Association encourages citizens to voice any and all concerns that they may have about the judiciary in a proper and respectful manner that recognizes the right of all persons, including the rights of the judges, who, like all other persons, are entitled to have their reputations protected against false and or misleading statements that may lend to bring them into odium or disrepute in the eyes of reasonable thinking members of the society”.
The DBA said that it does the society “no good to attack the reputation of judges based purely on whether or not they rule in favour of a particular litigant”.
The DBA said further that everyone is entitled to view the judgements of all the courts in Dominica on the ECSC website as well as all judgements of the CCJ, which is Dominica’s highest court.
“At a time when information is so readily available at our fingertips, the public is encouraged to keep informed by going on these sites to read the judicial decisions in cases that are of interest to them,” the DBA added. (CMC)