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High Court rules ABLP Tribunal unlawful, decision changes nothing says party hierarchy

The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) will convene a special meeting ahead of Wednesday’s Cabinet briefing, to discuss a High Court ruling that says a tribunal setup by the party to exercise disciplinary action against MP Asot Michael, is unlawful.

“I can tell you that there will be a special meeting to discuss the implications of the ruling,” Minister Lennox Weston told IPB.

Justice Jan Drysdale ruled that the process by which the ABLP arranged a disciplinary tribunal breached provisions of its own constitution and therefore any decision taken by it is declared “null and void’.  

A press statement issued by Mr. Michael’s team and titled “Court strikes down ABLP disciplinary action against Asot Michael as unlawful,” said the ruling delivered on December 12th, 2022, declared that “two purported disciplinary tribunals engaged to deal with the complaints were illegally appointed”.

But Lionel Hurst, a member of the ABLP tribunal, said the court’s decision does not affect any outcome of Rawdon Turner running as the party’s candidate in the St Peter constituency in next general elections.

He also said that the tribunal had not yet announced any actions against Mr. Michael at the time he filed the matter in court and so, there is nothing to make null and void.

The court’s case was to specifically address the validity of the appointment of the disciplinary tribunal under the party’s constitution.

And, he said, any observations that the court might have made while hearing the primary case is “dictum” and does not affect any decision that has already been made involving Turner’s placement.

According to UK law, on which Antigua and Barbuda’s law originates, “obiter dictum” refers to a judge’s comments or observations, in passing on a matter arising in a case before him which does not require a decision. Obiter remarks are not essential to a decision and do not create binding precedent.

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Barring all prior missteps, Mr. Hurst noted that Mr. Turner was elected 2:1 at the party’s convention last November which makes his candidacy legitimate.

ABLP Chairman, E.P Chet Greene said in a press statement that Mr. Turner remains the party’s preferred candidate “who enjoys the full support of the party”.

Like Mr. Hurst, the chairman said, “while the decision of the court is fully respected, the reality is that the Party has already taken all the necessary steps to handle the matter …in accordance with its internal arrangements”.

Observations of the Court – Obiter Dictum

Apart from the ruling, the court made observations that would cause voters to question whether MP Asot Michael was still a member of the ABLP and by virtue the rightful candidate for St Peter.

As part of its argument, the party’s lawyer attempted to argue that Mr. Michael had declared himself as an independent candidate through a news article which served as notice of his withdrawal as a member of the ABLP.

Mr. Michael, however, denied his complicity in the article and told the court that the article was “a fabrication by the reporter”.

According to Justice Drysdale, reliance on a newspaper article of which Mr. Michael was not the author, constitutes “admissible hearsay”.

In other words, it can be submitted as reliable grounds for a withdrawal of candidacy.

Kema Benjamin of Marshall & Co. represented Asot Michael while Dr. David Dorsett represented the executive members of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party.

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