privy council

The people of Trinidad and Tobago have a right to vote.

This was the loud and clear message from the Privy Council law Lords who delivered judgement against the Government’s decision to postpone the Local Government Elections and extend the life of councils for one year.

Former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan secured victory at the Privy Council after being defeated at Trinidad and Tobago’s High Court and Court of Appeal after he challenged, on behalf of his client Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj, the extension of Local Government officials’ tenure from December 2, 2022 for one year following the proclamation of sections of The Miscellaneous Provisions (Local Government Reform) Act,2022.

The Privy Council Law Lords - Lord Reed, Lord Hodge, Lord Briggs, Lord Kitchin and Lord Richards heard the case on March 15, 2023 and judgement was delivered on Thursday at 8.30 a.m.

President of the Supreme Court Lord Robert John Reed and Deputy President Patrick Stewart Hodge adjudicated on this case. The Privy Council, in its judgement emphasised the importance of the citizens right to vote.

The said “The essential characteristic of a representative democracy, whether at a national or local level, is that the representatives are chosen by popular vote. In a modern democracy, such as Trinidad and Tobago, all individuals have the right to participate in the popular vote, subject only to specified conditions and disqualifications,”.

The Lords noted that in the case of municipal corporations, the popular vote is direct for the Councillors and indirect, by means of party lists, for Aldermen.

They said that it is also an essential element of any democratic form of government, whether at a national or a local level, that the electorate choose their representatives for a limited period.

The Lords said “The right to vote out representatives is as important as the right to vote in representatives. At the end of the period for which they were elected, the electorate has the right to decide whether they wish the incumbent representatives to remain in office, assuming they stand for re-election,”.

The British judges said it is inimical to a representative democracy that the representatives are chosen by anyone other than the electorate.

“It is not for Parliament, still less the Government, to choose the representatives. But, if the amendments to sections 11 and 12 ( of the Municipal Corporations Act) are construed to apply to the incumbent Councillors and Aldermen, the effect will be they have been chosen as representatives for an additional year, not by the electorate but by the Government, which brought the amendments into force while those Councillors and Aldermen were still in office. The right of citizens to vote for Councillors and, indirectly, for Aldermen, indeed the whole democratic structure of local government is statutory. This is true of all voting rights and democratic processes, at the level of central as well as local government,".

They stated that the amendments to sections 11 and 12 can therefore be brought into effect at a time when there are incumbent Councillors and Aldermen or at times after they have vacated office and before elections have been held.

The Lords took issue with Parliament conferring itself the power to decide the life of the Local Government Councils.

“If the respondents are right, Parliament has therefore conferred on the Government power to decide whether or not the terms of office of elected representatives should be extended by a year. Counsel for the respondents described this as a “modest” and “relatively anodyne” change. The Board Disagrees. The continuation in office of elected representatives for a year, an increase of one-third in their term, without reference to the electorate does not seem to the Board to be modest. If Parliament had intended to give the Government such a power, it is reasonable to expect that it would have done so expressly. The legislation does not do so, nor does it appear that any consideration was given to this possibility in any of the steps which led to the changes made in local government by the 2022 Act, ”the Lords stated.

The Privy Council said it was unable to agree with T&T’s Court of Appeal that the amendments to sections 11 and 12 of the MCA, increasing terms of office from three to four years, applied to the incumbent Councillors and Aldermen. They noted that Councillors and Aldermen elected in December 2019 were due to lose office in December 2022 and further local elections were due to be held by March2023.The judgement stated that on November 7, 2022, a Proclamation was issued, bringing a small number of provisions of the 2022 Act into force with effect from November, 8,2022.

The judgement stated that the principal changes were to substitute four years for three years as the periods of office of Councillors and Aldermen.

The Lords noted that on November 3, 2022,the Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Faris Al-Rawi has announced the Government’s intention to bring these provisions of the 2022 Act into force.

He stated that the new four-year term would apply to the Councillors and Aldermen then in office elected by popular vote for a term of three years.

They noted that the provisions for the democratic election of Councillors and Aldermen remain unchanged except for the extension of the terms from three years to four years.

The Lords also noted the appellant (Balgobin-Maharaj) challenged that the amendments contravened entrenched rights to vote under the Constitution.

“The appellant is right to say that democratic values and the requirement for a representative democracy lie at the heart of the Constitution,” stated the Lords.

In the 2019 Local Government election there was a 7-7 tie between the PNM and the UNC over the battle for the 14 regional corporations.


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