TWENTY-NINE grounds of appeal have been mounted by the State as it challenges last Monday’s ruling by Justice Frank Seepersad that the country’s colonial-age sedition laws were unconstitutional.
An additional five grounds are being relied upon as they relate to a substitution order in which the judge allowed Vijay Maharaj, the son of former Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary general Sat Maharaj, to replace his father as a claimant in the proceedings.
The appeal was filed at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain on Monday evening, exactly one week after Justice Seepersad ruled that sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act, which came into effect in 1920, were not in conformity with the Constitution as they imposed disproportionate and unjustified restrictions on citizens’ free speech, expression and thought.
The judge also held that the act infringed on the right to freedom of the press.
Following the ruling, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the ruling of the judge was “dangerous” and indicated it would be appealed all the way to the Privy Council in London, England.
In his ruling, Justice Seepersad said sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act were patently inconsistent and were at odds with Section 1 of the Constitution, which guarantees that Trinidad and Tobago is a sovereign, democratic State.
“In addition, they violate the Rule of Law because they lack certainty, are vague and so their status as law cannot be reasonably justified in this sovereign, democratic state,” the judge said.
No sedition charge
The effect of the ruling is that people can no longer be charged with the act of sedition unless Justice Seepersad’s ruling is overturned at appeal.
The ruling also brought an immediate halt to a preliminary enquiry against Watson Duke, president of the Public Services Association (PSA), who was charged with sedition last August over statements he made during a protest at telecoms provider TSTT in 2018.
When the appeal comes up for hearing, attorneys for the Office of the Attorney General will seek to have the court set aside both the substitution of Sat Maharaj with his son and substantive orders of Justice Seepersad pending the hearing and determination of the appeal.
That application was also made before Seepersad after the judgment was delivered, but it was denied.
The constitutional claim was filed by Maharaj and his media company, Central Broadcasting Services Ltd, after Maharaj made certain statements on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15, 2019.
Maharaj said citizens living in Tobago were lazy and the men were rapists.
Even though he had not been charged, Maharaj later suggested to his supporters during an SDMS Indian Arrival Day celebration that a charge for sedition against him was inevitable.