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Friday 21 September 2018
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AG served with election petition at Mahabir’s funeral

Attorney General Faris Al- Rawi, also the sitting Member of Parliament for the San Fernando West seat, was on Friday served with an election petition at the funeral service for former People’s National Movement (PNM) government minister Errol Mahabir.

The funeral service took place at the St Paul’s Anglican Church on Harris Promenade, San Fernando and was attended by hundreds of mourners including Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, former Prime Ministers Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday, a line up of government ministers and senators as well as members of Parliament from both sides of the House and a list of other prominent persons in society.

The election petition, in essence, is the petitioner asking the courts to declare the September 7 general election null and void and to grant certain reliefs which include ordering fresh elections.

Two days after the general election on September 9, the coalition People’s Partnership (PP) announced that it would be mounting a legal challenge to the results of the general election which it lost to the People’s National Movement (PNM). The PNM won 23 of the 41 seats in the general election while the PP won 18.

In a statement, the coalition, comprising the United National Congress (UNC), the Congress of the People (COP), the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) and the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), said it had received legal advice in its challenge to the results.

On September 19, the High Court granted leave to challenge the election results of the September 7 general election in six constituencies relating to the extension of voting for one hour in Trinidad by the Elections and Boundaries Commission. The six constituencies challenged are: La Horquetta/ Talparo (Maxie Cuffie), Tunapuna (Esmond Forde), St Joseph (Terrance Deyalsingh), Moruga/ Tableland, (Dr Lovell Francis), Toco/Sangre Grande (Glenda Jennings- Smith), and San Fernando West( Faris Al-Rawi). The legal team representing the UNC includes attorneys Gerald Ramdeen, Wayne Sturge, Kent Samlal and a yet to be named British QC.

Reports about the serving of the petition to Al-Rawi were that he was speaking to Yvonne Mahabir, widow of Errol Mahabir, when he was approached by a bailiff who introduced himself and attempted to hand him an envelope containing the election petition, telling him he was now served in the EBC matter.

Sources said Al-Rawi reportedly told the bailiff that he was at a funeral service, that he is public figure and that he was not in hiding, following which the bailiff is reported to have placed the envelope on the AG’s shoes and left. Sources said Al-Rawi appeared to be upset.

In an interview yesterday, one of the attorneys representing the UNC, Wayne Sturge, admitted that a “a process server was engaged to effect service.” He said three petitions were served on Thursday September 24, the day the ruling PNM held its Thanksgiving and Prayer service at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain. He said the fourth was served yesterday on Al-Rawi.

To date Jennings-Smith, Francis, Cuffie and al Rawi have been served. Sturge claimed that Jennings- Smith, Francis and Cuffie attempted to return the document to the bailiff. Terrance Deyalsingh and Esmond Forde are yet to be served. Sturge said if these two were not served by tomorrow, then an extension would have to be sought from the courts.

He defended the serving of the election petition on Al-Rawi at the funeral service, saying attorneys representing the People’s Partnership had asked the attorney representing the PNM, Michael Quamina, if he would be willing to accept the petitions and distribute them but Sturge said he was told Quamina refused to do so.

This led to the PP hiring a process server to distribute the petitions, he said.

He said he was also told that the process server had difficulty in serving the document as some of the new ministers used their security to prevent the papers being served.

“We have no control over the discretion of choices of the process server on how he effects service,” he said.

He said the serving of the document at the church could have been avoided if the lawyers for the PNM had agreed initially to accept the petitions on behalf of the PNM members. He said he was told the PNM lawyers only agreed after the AG was served. Sturge said that if the person to whom the petition is addressed, refuses to accept it after being notifed, then the process server can drop it at his feet.

Sturge further defended the distribution saying the court would view it as “proper service”. He said the petition cannot be served to parliamentarians in Parliament, neither can it be served on litigants at the court. He said it can be served anywhere else.

He said now that the petitions have been served, it paves the way for the filing of affidavits in the courts to have the matter set up for case management conference, after which a timeline to file arguments will be given and finally a date will be set for hearing.

“We have a strict timeframe, petitions had to be served by Monday, September 28, it was necessary for the process server, out of expedience to have it served, where it is served is up to his discretion,” said Sturge.

He said the courts will have to determine the appropriate remedy once the matter comes up, whether to order by elections in the six marginal seats or to issue a declaration saying the EBC was wrong to extend the voting time.

The People’s Partnership claims it has information which suggested that it was comfortably ahead in the polls at 6 pm and that its march to victory was affected by the sudden unilateral decision of the EBC to extend the hours of the poll from 6 pm to 7 pm.

The PP stated that the “EBC cannot and should not change the rules of engagement without giving proper notice to candidates, political parties and voters.” Efforts to reach Al Rawi on his cell phone were unsuccessful up to press time.

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