BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – THE Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) threw some harsh and scathing criticisms at Supervisor of Elections Pastor Leroy Benjamin and Registration Officer Bernadette Lawrence, describing their behaviour in the conduct of the July 2011 Local Elections as deliberate and biased for the political benefit of a particular party.
Yesterday – via teleconference at the Nevis Circuit Court – the ECSC held that 200-plus individuals were virtually stripped of their legal right to vote because of the actions, or lack thereof, of Benjamin and Lawrence.
The Justices of Appeal (JAs) explained that it is pellucidly clear from the evidence presented in the High Court case that Lawrence acted with bad faith and misfeasance.
The Appellate Court indicated that Lawrence’s bad faith and bias manifested in her failure to publish objection lists and failure to ensure that notices of objection hearing were delivered to the objectees prior to the date of hearing.
“It is usually a reasonable inference that a person intends the inevitable consequences of their actions. The inevitable consequence of Ms. Lawrence’s decision not to publish the List of Objections was that the objectees would be injured. In the absence of an explanation, therefore, it can be inferred that Ms. Lawrence intended to harm the objectees in this way.
“…Ms. Lawrence knew that scores of persons would not receive the notices of hearing on time. She knew this because the notices were not registered (as evidenced by the Post Office stamps) until it was too late to receive proper or any notice at all. Yet, she still proceeded with the hearings. She did not send out fresh notices. She herself took no steps to engage with the Chief Registration Officer or the Commission to find a solution to the obvious problem. She knew that people would be injured, but she forged ahead relentlessly. This is evidence from which the learned trial judge might have found an intention to harm those persons who were objected to.”
The Justices of Appeal also held that evidence suggests Lawrence was in some way association with the Nevis Reformation Party, the party which made the objections to the 203 names in the St. John’s Constituency.
Lawrence – the court found – having been aware of a directive given to the Supervisor of Elections by the Electoral Commission that the names of persons duly reconfirmed and issued National Identification Cards are to remain on the Voters’ List, totally ignored the directive and continued with the objection hearings.
Her refusal to fit the Deputy Leader of the Concerned Citizens Movement – Mark Brantley – with the notice of objections, was another piece of evidence which the court named as showing Lawrence’s bias and misfeasance.
“The evidence before the learned trial judge clearly supported the inference that Ms. Lawrence had allowed her party affiliation to come before her statutory duties and her constitutional and common law duties of fairness to all the voters of the constituency of which she had been given charge. There was abundant evidence which established not only bias but, worse, bad faith and misfeasance on the part of Ms. Lawrence…”
Being the Chief Registration Officer, the Appellate Court held that Benjamin had a responsibility to ensure that monthly lists were published and, notwithstanding being written to by Brantley who holds the office of Leader of the Opposition, “steadfastly refused to do so, even though he knew he was so required by law.
“Nor did he condescend to respond to the subsequent letter from the leader of Mr. Brantley’s party protesting the omission to publish the Revised Monthly Lists…He must have known that persons whose names were being removed from the list would be injured by his failure to publish. They would not know their names had been removed until a few days before the election. In the event, they were thereby denied the opportunity to appeal the adverse decision.”
In light thereof, the Appellate Court found that there is ample evidence “to establish bias and bad faith and misfeasance in public office on his part. In this case we are confronted with senior public servants who have acted in bad faith, who have intentionally or at least recklessly broken the law, and who have intentionally or at least recklessly caused harm to a large number of voters, resulting in their disenfranchisement.
Benjamin has served as Supervisor of Elections since 2004 when he claimed he was called by God so to do. But since then, several calls have been made from a number of social and political groups for him to resign from or be relieved of that position.