ELECTIONS COMMISSION – DAMN THE MESSENGER!


The legal adviser to the Elections Commission came in for some blistering, public, abuse by Commissioner Desmond Trotman, who referred to the young lawyer as practising ‘deceit.’ Apparently, the opinion she gave as to the law relating to registration of electors, was not to his liking, as it contradicted the position that he and his fellow Government-appointed Commissioners had been advocating. Ms. Excellence Dazell advised as follows: “I therefore advise that procedures be put in place to ensure the revision of the list, otherwise the Commission would be acting in defiance of the law….” Ms. Dazell argued that “based on (election laws), the list must be updated bi-annually by adding persons who are now qualified to be registered, to that list, and those who are no longer qualified to be registered, to be taken off that list….”

There are two laws that are mainly relevant to registration and elections. These are the National Registration Act and the Election Laws (Amendment) Act.

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FAIR COMMENT ON A MATTER OF PUBLIC INTEREST


In English law, fair comment on a matter of public interest is allowed. Generally, it guarantees the freedom of the press to make statements on matters of public interest, as long as the statements are not made with ill-will, spite, or with intent to harm the subject of the comment. For decades, English courts have placed a higher burden on public figures to prove defamation, which includes both libel and slander. This is based on the view that if a person chooses public activity, that person must expect a higher degree of public scrutiny. For example, it is hardly likely that an English court will countenance a defamatory intent against a public figure where an allegation of conflict of interest is made on facts which are essentially true but could be capable of a more generous interpretation.

Fair comment is an ancient common law (judge made law) defence. But it was replaced in the Unites States in 1964 by a defence created in the case of New York Times v Sullivan in which the US Supreme Court decided that actual malice has to be proved to establish defamation. Since it is very difficult to prove actual malice in a journalist or a politician in the cut and thrust of journalism or politics, public life in the US has been largely liberated from the fear of defamation. While the defence of fair comment remained in the U.K. it was increasingly found to be too restrictive for adequate scrutiny of public officials. The courts of the UK have never adopted New York Times v Sullivan but began to test a more liberal approach to criticisms of public officials.

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THE FAMILIAR RING OF THE ELECTIONS SEASON


Local government elections are to be held on November 12. With it, the never-ending stream of suspicions emerged as the Government established new local government units and merged others. The Opposition argued that these were done to give an advantage to the Government and the Opposition, through one of its representatives, promptly launched legal proceedings. This event provided the explanation for the ‘disappearance’ of the Chief Elections Officer, Mr. Keith Lowenfield, on one of the most critical days of the elections process, namely, the day after the submission of lists, when corrections have to be made and defects rectified.

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WHAT’S WITH TRUMP?

President of the United States, Donald Trump, and First Lady Melania Trump, paid an official visit to the UK on Thursday and Friday last week. The initial invitation by Prime Minister Theresa May was for a state visit, which involved pomp and ceremony. But after it became clear that Trump would be greeted with widespread public hostility, the invitation was downgraded to an official visit. Still, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were honoured with military parades, a lavish dinner and tea with the Queen, and greeted with widespread protests all over the UK.

One form of protest was the raising of a gigantic balloon of a baby resembling Trump, in diapers. The theory of the protestors is that normal criticism does not bother Trump and he reacts to it with abuse and insults. But ridiculing him is said to jar his gargantuan ego and is believed to be highly effective. The video of the Trump Baby Blimp can be viewed here: https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2018/jul/13/the-moment-trump-baby-blimp-lifts-off-video

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FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND THE CITIZEN

On Wednesday last the public was treated to a brilliant and expansive lecture by the former Chancellor (ag) of the Judiciary and now Distinguished Jurist-in-Residence at the University of Guyana, Carl Singh. The subject was “The Constitutional Guarantee of Fundamental Rights and the Citizen. The lecture, to a packed hall and attentive audience at Herdmanston House, was the third in the series “Conversation on Law and Society.” Chancellor Singh started by pointing out that while citizens may not always be cognizant of what their right are, they are certainly aware that the Constitution guarantees them, which they are often prepared to aggressively defend. He related the story of a visitor to a hospital in Georgetown who was being prevented from entering because the visiting hours had come to an end. During the argument between the visitor and the hospital staff, the visitor loudly proclaimed that it was her constitutional right to enter the hospital to visit her relative!

Chancellor Singh explored a wide range of issues, not all of which can be examined here. A few are selected.

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