San Cristóbal y Nieves: el Reino Unido impone nuevas regulaciones para las elecciones del lunes
UK privy council overturns St Kitts and Nevis boundary changes ahead of polls
The Caribbean nation of St Kitts and Nevis has been thrown into political turmoil following a British judicial decision to strike down new electoral regulations a few days before the state’s general election.
Five British justices sitting on the judicial committee of the privy council in London on Thursday overturned the introduction of fresh constituency boundaries ahead of the poll, which happens on Monday. The elections will now be held using the old electoral boundaries.
It is unusual for a UK court to have to rule on such a highly politicised dispute so close to a general election. The emergency hearings at the privy council were streamed live on the internet and have been followed closely on the islands. The proceedings were also broadcast on local radio stations in St Kitts and Nevis.
The Labour party government had introduced the electoral constituencies by proclamation on 16 January, exactly a month before the scheduled vote. The opposition, however, claimed the proclamation was not correctly gazetted; they said the new boundaries would also give government candidates an unfair advantage, and they launched a legal challenge. Local courts dismissed their appeals.
Feelings have been running high in the country, a two-island federation of about 55,000 people, making up the smallest sovereign state in the Americas. The St Kitts and Nevis Observer newspaper, on its front page last week, ran an article entitled Election on the new boundaries, above a picture of the prime minister, Denzil Douglas.
Lord Goldsmith, the former Labour attorney general, who appeared for the St Kitts and Nevis government, argued that correct constitutional procedures had been followed and that the prime minister’s press secretary had distributed copies of the changes to the media.
Part of the case turned on precise timings of what occurred on 16 January. The eastern Caribbean court of appeal ruled that the proclamation was made by the governor general, Sir Edmund Lawrence, at 6.20pm, while an injunction opposing the new boundaries was granted by a local court only at 7.38pm and served on the country’s attorney general at about 8.20 pm. The proclamation had been approved by the country’s national assembly.
Peter Knox QC and Douglas Mendes SC, for the opposition, alleged that the process was calculated to prevent non-government politicians gaining access to the court and that the changes were not made available to the public.
The privy council remains the final court of appeal for many smaller commonwealth countries. The five justices – Lords Mance, Kerr, Clarke, Reed and Hodge – who heard the case, normally sit in the supreme court at Westminster.
The privy council’s ruling declared: “It is determined and ordered that the list to be used in the … election is and shall be that existing prior to the proclamation …. purportedly issued and published by the governor general. Any effect which the said proclamation would continue otherwise to have, whether in relation to any other election or otherwise, is hereby suspended until further order.”
Parvais Jabbar, a solicitor with the London law firm Simons, Muirhead and Burton, who represented the opposition, welcomed the ruling. “This is an important victory for the rule of law,” he said. “This was about ensuring access to the courts and protecting democracy from potentially unconstitutional actions by the executive.”
Mark Brantley, the opposition politician who launched the legal challenge, told local media last week: “I don’t think it’s a losing battle; it’s a function of using the court system provided by the constitution in order to get a final pronouncement as to what we consider to have been a travesty that occurred on the 16 January.”