Court of Appeal Justices have ruled in favour of keeping Trinidad and Tobago’s sedition laws but Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj says he will be contesting the ruling in the Privy Council over the next six to nine months.
Speaking at a virtual press conference yesterday, Maharaj said the sedition laws impeded freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
The fight against the sedition laws was initiated by the late general secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Sat Maharaj and his attorneys said it was his dying declaration to appeal the sedition laws to ensure citizens had the right to criticise governments without facing charges of sedition.
Yesterday, Maharaj said it was because the late SDMS leader felt the law was outdated, vague, uncertain and posed a danger to press freedom that he fought to have it repealed.
However, Maharaj said he knew it was a case that would not be won in T&T courts.
“Before we embarked on this case, I knew it was important and was going to be a case on which I would not have succeeded in T&T but a case I will win in the Privy Council,” Maharaj said.
As a lawyer in public law for 50 years, Maharaj said he knew if the case failed in the Court of Appeal his team would ask the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to expedite the hearing.
“In my view, this case could be heard in the Privy Council within a period of six to nine months and we will be filing our application for conditional leave in the Court of Appeal,” he said.
He said this leave allows for all records to be put together and certified by the Registrar of the Supreme Court.
“The appellant has to deposit 500 pounds with the Registrar of the Supreme Court. That conditional leave order is made and all records are prepared. Then final leave is granted and the record is transmitted in a diplomatic bag of the government to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council,” he explained.
He said their team of lawyers in England have already received the relevant documents, except for the judgement granted yesterday.
“We are prepared and will be making an application to the Privy Council for an early hearing of this,” Maharaj said.
He noted that any responsible government would have realised the impact that the sedition laws had on press freedom and freedom of thought and expression and would have already moved to repeal them.
Meanwhile, attorney Dinesh Rambally said the late Maharaj had given instructions for the case to the sent to the Privy Council if the matter failed in T&T’s lower courts.
“Before he died, his declaration from the inception was that if he is not around, he wanted it to go all the way to the Privy Council and hence his retention of his full legal team,” Rambally said.
He added that Sat Maharaj believed in cohesion and not divisiveness and knew that if the sedition laws remained, T&T would be heading down a dangerous path.
“We must remember that suppression of the freedom of speech is the beginning, the opening of the corridor of autocratic societies,” Rambally said.
“Once you start having the potential for the suppression of freedom of speech, you will actually open up a corridor for great problems of the suppression of other rights and the infringements of the rights of citizens.”
Yesterday, the Court of Appeal Court partially reversed a High Court declaration in which it found that sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act, which came into effect in 1920, were unconstitutional as it infringed on the rights of citizens to freedom of expression, thought and freedom of the press.