The Court of Appeal has agreed to suspend a recent judgement, which struck down aspects of this country’s colonial-age sedition legislation.
Delivering an oral decision at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, this morning, Appellate Judge Alice Yorke-Soo Hon ruled that the suspension was necessary to protect two pending matters being prosecuted by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and to prevent a myriad of legal challenges to other existing laws.
Yorke-Soo Hon noted that if the judgement is successfully appealed, the DPP’s Office would not be able to relay the charges currently being prosecuted, as the legislation has a one year limitation period for doing so.
Yorke-Soo Hon also ruled that the suspension, which will last until the determination of the substantive appeal in the case, would not prejudice former Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary-general Satnarayan Maharaj, who passed away before the case was determined by High Court Judge Frank Seepersad in January.
Yorke-Soo Hon also stated that Maharaj’s son Vijay, who was allowed to be substituted as the claimant in the case after his father’s death, would also not be affected as there was no evidence that he was being investigated under the legislation.
“The court had to balance the impact it would have on both parties and the wider public,” Yorke-Soo Hon said.
As part of her decision, Yorke-Soo Hon granted the parties an expedited appeal, which is expected to be heard by a full appeal panel on April 29.
The suspension of Seepersad’s judgement means that the DPP’s Office can continue the prosecution of its sedition cases including one against Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr.
The DPP’s Office will also have to consider the case against Public Services’ Association (PSA) President Watson Duke, who successfully applied to Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle to be discharged while the decision on the suspension was still pending.
Bakr’s lawyers made a similar application after Duke’s was successful, but the decision was put on hold pending the Appeal Court’s ruling.
In his judgement, Seepersad ruled that the law could not be protected from judicial review under the constitutional savings clause as it is vague, uncertain and can lead to arbitrary application.
He also ruled that the legislation is not compatible with a sovereign democratic state as it limits constitutional rights to freedom of thought and expression and freedom of the press.
In its appeal, the AG’s Office has raised 29 grounds of appeal over alleged errors made by Seepersad in his analysis of the case.
Maharaj’s family is being represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Rhea Khan. The AG’s Office is being represented by Fyard Hosein, SC, Vanessa Gopaul, and Josephina Baptiste-Mohammed.