Appeal Court dismisses local government election lawsuit

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Political activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj.

The Court of Appeal has dismissed social and political activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj’s challenge of the Government’s move to extend the term of local government representatives by a year.

On Friday, Justices of Appeal Prakash Moosai, Gillian Lucky and James Aboud delivered their ruling on Balgobin-Maharaj’s complaints about the Local Government Reform Act, which contains amendments to the Municipal Corporations Act.

Passed by a simple majority in 2022, the act allowed local government elections to be delayed by a year.

The election was due between December 2022 and March 2023, but the partial proclamation of local-government reform legislation allowed the extension of the terms of councillors and aldermen to four years.

In their ruling, delivered at the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain, the judges held there was no right to vote in local general elections generally or on a specific date, as opposed to national elections, where there was such a right.

They agreed with the State’s contention that there was nothing in the Constitution which said citizens had to vote three years after the last local government elections.

In separate opinion, Aboud said the law also allowed the Cabinet to elect individual sections of a piece of legislation for proclamation, and there was no inclusion in the amended Municipal Corporations Act which prevented it from selecting what portion of the 2022 act should be proclaimed,

He said the court could not interfere with the will of the Parliament.

In dismissing the appeal, the judges granted Balgobin-Maharaj conditional leave to petition the Privy Council, by agreement from both sides.

As part of his lawsuit, Balgobin-Maharaj had asked the court to restrain all councillors and aldermen elected in the December 2, 2019, local government elections from acting beyond December 3, 2022.

Justice Jacqueline Wilson rejected this in December.

Alternatively, he wanted the offices of all councillors and aldermen declared vacant from December 4.

Wilson ruled that the least irreparable harm would be to refuse the injunction because of the range of services aldermen and councillors provided and the potential impact of their disruption if she granted it.

She said local government corporations played an important role in providing services to the public, and it did not follow that there would be adverse consequences if they were allowed to continue in office beyond the three months after their term ends.

Although she refused the injunction, in assessing the merits of Balgobin-Maharaj’s main complaint, Wilson agreed there was a serious issue to be tried.

She was expected to hear arguments at trial in January, but, instead, the parties agreed the Court of Appeal should hear and determine the entire case, and not just the failed injunction application.

Friday’s decision means Balgobin-Maharaj will now have to consider filing a final appeal to the Privy Council.

He is represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Renuka Rambhajan and Vishaal Sieusarran. Douglas Mendes, SC, Rishi Dass and Anala Mohan appear for the Cabinet and local government minister.

Friday’s ruling also coincided with a sitting of the House of Representatives to debate whether Diego Martin and Siparia should become boroughs. The bill seeks to amend the Municipal Corporations Act and five other pieces of legislation.