The sedition charge against Public Services’ Association (PSA) President Watson Duke has been dismissed.
Chief Magistrate Maria Busby-Earle-Caddle opted to uphold an application to discharge Duke as he reappeared before her in the Port-of-Spain Magistrate’s Court, yesterday morning.
During the hearing, State prosecutor Mauricia Joseph requested that the case be adjourned after the first hearing of the Office of the Attorney General’s appeal over Justice Frank Seepersad’s judgement, in which he struck down aspects of the Sedition Act, last month.
Joseph explained that the AG’s Office had sought and obtained an expedited hearing of its preliminary application to suspend the effects of Seepersad’s judgement, pending the determination of the substantive appeal. The hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday.
Joseph’s submissions were rejected by Busby-Earle-Caddle, who pointed out that Duke remains charged under legislation, which cannot be considered legitimate law unless the suspension is granted or the judgement is eventually overturned on appeal.
She then discharged Duke.
In the event that the AG’s Office is eventually successful in its legal challenges, Duke can be charged for the offence once again.
The sedition charge against Duke relates to statements on proposed layoffs at TSTT, T&TEC, and WASA, which he made in a press conference on November 16, 2018.
Duke, who also has pending charges for rape, indecent assault, and disorderly conduct, was placed on $250,000 after being charged in August, last year.
Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Yasin Abu Bakr is also currently facing a sedition charge over an Eid-ul-Fitr speech at his organisation’s Mucurapo Road mosque on November 4, 2005.
Bakr’s hour-long sermon centred around the Islamic principle of zakaat, which requires Muslims to donate a portion of their wealth to charity.
Bakr went on trial in 2012 but the case ended in a hung jury. Guardian Media understands that Bakr’s lawyers may make a similar application when his case comes up for case management, next week.
The sedition case before Seepersad was brought by former Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary-general Satnarayan Maharaj before his death in November, last year.
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.
Duke was represented by Gilbert Peterson, SC, and John Heath.