“The court erred”, this is the basis Speaker of the House of Assembly Hon. Julian Willock is using to appeal the 2 May High Court decision to have Fourth District Elected Representative, Hon. Mark Vanterpool sworn into the House of Assembly.
The matter was taken before the court after Hon. Vanterpool wrote to the Clerk of the House informing of his resignation from political office days after the general elections; later he changed his mind deciding that he wanted to keep his seat.
Upon being sworn in as Speaker Hon. Willock informed that he had accepted Hon. Vanterpool’s resignation and stated that there should be by-election to fill the Fourth District seat. However, Hon. Willock’s request for the Governor to issue a writ for the by-election was unsuccessful as the Governor, His Excellency Augustus Jaspert – upon consultation with the Attorney General – determined that there was no vacancy as Hon. Vanterpool’s resignation was invalid.
This resulted in a standoff as the Speaker did not swear in Hon, Vanterpool, thus prompting the Fourth District Representative to seek judicial ruling on the matter.
In her decision on 2 May Justice Ann Marie Smith ruled that “Hon. Mark Vanterpool be granted the redress sought and be sworn in as the Representative of the Fourth Electoral District. However, this ruling was challenged on 7 May when it was announced that the Speaker has filed a notice of appeal in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
In a statement on the matter Veritas, the lawfirm representing the Speaker in the matter noted that the Court of Appeal is the final decision maker in matters of this nature and that after reviewing the judgment of Justice Smith and the relevant law on the subject matter the Speaker was advised that there are merits and a good prospect of success on an appeal.
The Speaker’s legal advisers noted that the matter is of legal significance and indicated that this is an opportunity for the Territory to set a precedent in an area that has gone too long untouched. In stressing the significance, the Firm said: “A path of guidance must be paved so that future elected members understand the importance of their roles when elected. As such, having reviewed the matter and acting on legal advice, the Speaker has decided to appeal the decision of the Honourable Justice Smith so that the Court of Appeal, which will be the final court to decide the matter pursuant to our Constitution, be given the opportunity to fully ventilate these important issues surrounding our Country’s governance.”
The ongoing impasse between the Speaker and Hon. Vanterpool has fueled community debates which apparently are not lost on the legal team who stressed that the appeal was not a swear-in delay tactic. “Some may see this case as a deliberate act to prevent Mr. Vanterpool from serving the constituents of District Four, nothing is further from the truth. The love and dedication that Mr. Vanterpool has for his constituency is undoubted, but the actions of Mr. Vanterpool must be tested, tried and proven true by the Court.”
“An appeal against the [Court] decision ought not to be viewed as a personal attack on Mr. Vanterpool. The acts of Mr. Vanterpool have caused great concern and raised important points of law which a Court of competent jurisdiction ought to be allowed to discuss and decide upon. If the decision to appeal is proved right, this would set new ground for countries with similar provisions in their Constitutions and a deeper understanding of our very own Constitution. We do not anticipate or foresee this matter being prolonged in the Court of Appeal as we have asked the Court to deal with it as a matter of urgency wherever the Court sits,” Veritas added.
In court documents it was noted that the Appellant/Defendant in the matter is the Speaker of the House of Assembly and there are two Respondents – the Claimant Hon. Mark Vanterpool, and the Attorney General, Hon. Baba Aziz as an Interested Party.
In the appeal notice some eight grounds for appeal are noted. Among the grounds is the fact that the Appellant believes that the decision is contrary to law and against the weight of evidence. It is believed that the Court erred in finding that the Respondent’s letter of resignation dated 5 March addressed to the Clerk of the House (because no Speaker had been elected) was invalid and ineffectual.
Further the Appellant stated that the Court erred in finding that there was no constitutionally recognized right to resign during the interval between the general election and the date on which the House of Assembly convened on 12 March. Hon. Willock contests that the Court erred in finding that the Respondent/Claimant’s resignation letter addressed to the Clerk of the House was not constitutionally recognized because it did not comply with section 67 (3)(a) of the Constitution and hence, a new/fresh notice of resignation addressed to the Speaker should have been issued.
The Appellant stated that the Court erred in finding that the acceptance of the Respondent/Claimant’s resignation letter by the Speaker did not operate to create a vacant seat for the Fourth Electoral District; that the Court erred in placing reliance on the uncorroborated evidence of Hon. Vanterpool that he had received many calls from his constituents expressing concern and asking him to reconsider his resignation. “Such evidence was irrelevant to the legal issue of constitutional validity of his resignation,” the notice stated.
Even more the Hon. Willock contends that the Court had no power and/or jurisdiction to “grant the redress sought” by the Respondent/Claimant. “Likewise, it had no power and/or jurisdiction to order/direct that the Respondent/Claimant “be sworn in” as the representative of the Fourth Electoral District. The Court’s jurisdiction was limited to determining the question of whether the Respondent/Claimant had vacated his seat in the House of Assembly with the grant of the appropriate declaratory relief.”
Now in the Appeals court the Speaker is seeking to have the Judge’s decision set aside and the claim dismissed with the Respondent to pay the Appellant’s cost in both the High Court and Appeal court matter. Further the Speaker is seeking to have the matter remitted to the House of Assembly for decision.