The Court of Appeal has overturned a judge’s decision to strike down aspects of this country’s colonial-age sedition legislation.
Delivering a written judgement during a virtual hearing, a short while ago, Appellate Judges Mark Mohammed, Charmaine Pemberton, and Maria Wilson ruled that High Court Judge Frank Seepersad got it wrong when he upheld the case brought by former Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary-general Satnarayan Maharaj, before his death in November 2019.
While Seepersad ruled that segments of the Sedition Act were too vague and uncertain to be considered valid law, the judges disagreed.
Mohammed suggested that the legislation had met the objectives to be a valid law and was not vague and subjective as claimed by the Maharaj.
He also noted that the legislation contained safeguards against arbitrary application including a requirement that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) initiate prosecutions under it.
The court also ruled that the colonial-age legislation was exempt from judicial intervention as it was legitimately protected by the saving clause, which protects similar pre-Independence legislation from review.
However, the appeal panel did rule that Seepersad was correct to allow Maharaj’s son Vijay to continue the case after his father’s death.
Following the ruling, attorney Vanessa Gopaul, who was part of the legal team for the Office of the Attorney General, asked that Maharaj’s son pay its legal costs as her client was successful in the appeal.
“This is a case that ought not to be pursued from the onset,” Gopaul said.
Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who led Maharaj’s legal team, challenged the position as he revealed that his client intends to appeal to the Privy Council.
“We do not think this case ought not to be pursued and it would be pursued further,” Maharaj said.
Gopaul challenged the suggestion as she claimed that a final appeal could be pursued as neither Maharaj nor the SDMS is affected by the legislation as it contains a one-year limitation period on prosecutions.
The panel eventually agreed to make each party bear its legal costs for the appeal.
Maharaj filed the lawsuit after police executed search warrants on the SDMS’s media house Central Broadcasting Services Limited (CBSL) after he made a series of incendiary statements on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15, 2019.
Maharaj claimed that citizens living in Tobago are lazy and labelled the men as rapists.
While no criminal charges were eventually brought against him or CBSL, he suggested that such was inevitable while addressing supporters during SDMS Indian Arrival Day celebrations.
Maharaj’s son is also being represented by Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon, and Rhea Khan. The AG’s Office was also represented by Fyard Hosein, SC, and Josephina Baptiste-Mohammed.