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Trinidad and Tobago

Sat mulls pulling back injunction action against DPP over sedition charges

Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Satnarayan Maharaj leader Satnarayan Maharaj and his lead counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj,SC, at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, yesterday.
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Satnarayan Maharaj leader Satnarayan Maharaj and his lead counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj,SC, at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, yesterday.

DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard,SC, has responded to Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) leader Satnarayan Maharaj, saying the police have not yet asked him to consent to any charges being laid against the religious leader under the Sedition Act.

As a result of Gaspard’s position, which was communicated to Maharaj’s lawyers by letter, the Maha Sabha’s lead counsel, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, has asked for their application seeking to join the DPP in the constitutional challenge to be adjourned so that they can reconsider their position.

Maharaj told Justice Frank Seepersad yesterday they may not proceed with their joinder application to make the DPP an interested party in the case.

Now that the DPP has responded, it is likely Maharaj’s lawyers will bring a separate action in which an injunction to prevent the laying of charges will be sought.

On Monday, Maharaj’s attorneys filed an application in the High Court seeking an injunction to prevent the DPP's laying any sedition charge. When the application came up for hearing by Seepersad, he raised “procedural concerns,” pointing out that Maharaj’s constitutional claim did not concern the DPP.

“For the court to entertain an application for a conservatory order (injunction), the DPP should be made a party,” the judge said.

“What concerns me is the process in relation to the DPP. The issues on the conservatory order application have no impact on the substantive action (the constitutional motion. The DPP was called on to make a decision and he has now done so…Isn’t it open to the claimants to deal with that in judicial review proceedings and include in that a conservatory order? From a procedural standpoint, there is uncertainty as to the efficacy to consider the Part 19 (joinder) application. His constitutional remit has nothing to do with the substantive action,” Seepersad said.

Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, who represents the Attorney General, said the DPP’s letter added a new dimension to the issue, taking away the urgency element of the injunction. However, he made it clear he could not give an undertaking on behalf of the DPP.

There was no legal representative of the director at yesterday’s proceedings, although he had been served with the application for the injunction on Monday at 2 pm.

When it was his turn to speak, Maharaj told the judge he agreed with the court’s position, adding that his team took the decision to file the conservatory order and joinder applications “blindly,” since things were happening at the same time.

He asked for the new applications to be adjourned to give his side an opportunity to consider its position and Seepersad agreed to put the matter to July 8, when the constitutional motion will also come up for hearing.

On that day, a timetable for the trial of the constitutional challenge will be set and it is likely that the judge will entertain oral submissions in late November and early December, as he provided the lawyers with dates in those months when the court’s docket is clear.

In his letter, Gaspard told Maharaj’s lawyers their request for him to hold his hand on any prosecution of their client in relation to sedition charges “pre-supposes that there has been a determination by me that some offence has been committed” under the Section Act.

He told them that it was the police, not the Office of the DPP, who were investigating Maharaj and Central Broadcasting Services Ltd (CBSL) under the act.

“I am not aware of any determination being made by the police with respect to charges nor have I been asked by the police to consent to any proceedings against your client.

“In the circumstances, I consider that it would be improper to give any undertaking not to consent to the prosecution of your clients in advance of those events actually taking notwithstanding the purposes for which your undertaking is being sought,” Gaspard said in his letter.

Maharaj and CBSL –which runs Radio and TV Jaagriti – is challenging the lawfulness and constitutionality of certain provisions of the Sedition Act Chapter 11.04.

Monday’s filing of the injunction application came after police twice executed search warrants under Section 13 of the Sedition Act,searched the television and radio station and took audio-video footage of April 9 and 18.

After the latest search last week Thursday, Maharaj, on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme, alleged the police were acting on political instructions and claimed political harassment. He also said the searches of the station were an attack on the media.

Also representing Maharaj are attorneys Jagdeo Singh, Kiel Tacklalsingh, Dinesh Rambally, Stefan Ramkissoon and Kavita Roop-Boodoo. Appearing with Hosein for the AG yesterday was Josephina Baptiste-Mohammed.

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