Closing arguments in dual citizenship trial concluded today; Justice Thom reserved her ruling for later date.
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Share Tweet Share Senior Oounsel MendesWhen the trial to determine whether Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and Education Minister Petter St Jean had dual citizenship on Nomination Day of the last general election in 2009 and therefore were not duly elected resumed this morning, the Petitioners through their attorney Senior Counsel began with his oral submission.Justice Gertel Thom ordered that written submissions be filed by 12pm on 28th September, 2011 and allotted two hours each for oral submissions on the 3rd of October, 2011.Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes told Justice Gertel Thom this morning that it had become apparent to him by reading the written submissions filed by the Respondents that one of their defense is that they took all reasonable steps to renounce citizenship prior to Nomination Day and hat as a result the Respondents were in fact qualified, and that if the Court were to accept that defense she would be presiding over an unfair trial and therefore asked that she not entertain that defense.One of Mr Mendes’ main arguments during his oral presentation today is the fact that obtaining, renewing or travelling on a passport constitutes an acknowledgment of ownership or allegiance to that country as decided by Justice Brennan in an Eastern Supreme Court trial Sykes v Cleary. Mr. Mendes also told the Court that his learned friend ‘resourcefulness is beyond comparism in finding resources from all over the world’ in as the case of Sykes vs. Cleary was submitted by Senior Astaphan in his authorities.Another point argued by Mr Mendes is that although they became citizens as children, if either of them asserted accepted or acquiesced citizenship with France then they are under allegiance to France. He further explained that ordinarily you would look to the law of the foreign power and in the absence of that foreign law it is presumed to be English/Dominican law.He also submitted that the question would have to be asked whether it would be inherently improbable that the Respondents would have obtained a passport as they were entitled to it as citizens and that the Court should examine what the Respondents were doing prior to the elections. He argues that based on evidence presented to the Court by the Petitioners, the Respondents were making application to the French authorities to be declared as French citizens and that Mr St. Jean as a non-resident citizen put himself on the Voters List.In terms of evidence, Mr Mendes told the Court that the Petitioners are relying on the silence of the Respondents as it is often said silence speaks louder than words.Mr Mendes explained that it is only commonsense that if someone accuses you of doing something you would respond and defend yourself, that is what the response of a normal human being would be and in the absence of not responding it could be inferred that the accusation is probably true.Mr Mendes further identified to the Court several instances where the Respondents ‘say nothing’. He told the Court, Mr Skerrit failed to say, ‘I don’t have a French passport’ during the election campaign in 2009 despite evidence in the newspaper indicating that he admitted to having a French passport.Senior Counsel Mendes greeting Labour Party supporters outside the Court this afternoon.He further explained that the evidence of Mr Skerrit in an affidavit filed in the Court regarding the Notice of Disqualification in the Sun Newspaper is contradicted by the evidence of his witnesses who he says, ‘simply performed badly under cross examination’.According to Mr Mendes, the fact that the Respondents did not deny ownership of French passports can be accepted as evidence that they had it.Mr Mendes also pointed out that the witnesses on behalf of the Petitioners were very forthright with the Court in their answers and that he did not know the inability to read and write is evidence that one cannot speak the truth.Mr Mendes pointed out to the Court another aspect of silence on the Respondents part is the fact that instead of merely saying, ‘I never admitted that I have a French passport’ as Mr Skerrit’s affidavit indicates and Mr St. Jean spoke at length with respect to Mr Green’s passport instead of stating that he Mr St. Jean did not own a French passport.Another instance of silence is the fact that the Respondents applied to the Court to strike out the subpoenas to produce the passport claiming that they could incriminate themselves. Mr Douglas stated, “If you didn’t have the passport the answer would not incriminate you. The answer to the subpoena is therefore an admission that you do have the passport.” Mr Mendes further explained that one could not incriminate themselves by the production of a document which is already in existence and that the Court could draw the inference that they did own the passport.Mr Mendes also referred to the letter dated 17th December, 2009 which Mr Skerrit wrote to his constituents informing them that it had been brought to his attention that he is disqualified and that the electors should not vote for him, indicates that an inference can be made that Mr Skerrit admitted that he had a French passport because he did not deny it. He also indicated that the letters written to the French Ambassador by the Respondents on the 27th of November by Mr Skerrit and the 30th of November by Mr St. Jean to renounce their citizenship is evidence that they did own a passport.Mr Mendes cited a 2009 decision by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court that if one acquires citizenship involuntarily (not by their own hand) then this does not disqualify them but if one obtain, renew or travel on a passport you would be disqualified. According to Mr Mendes Mr Skerrit admitted that they obtained citizenship through his mother and so the first part does not relate to him however, the second part has to be de-coded and inferred.Justice Thom then asked Senior Counsel Mendes ‘how do I conclude that the statement of Mr Prosper that he showed me [meaning Mr St. Jean] the passport was the same one he applied for or that he got from his mother?’Mr Mendes explained that Mr St. Jean was born in 1962 and it is highly improbable that he would have the same passport with his baby photograph so he would have had to renew it. He also explained that circumstantial evidence is putting the strands together and the inference has to be made.He also highlighted another instance of silence where the Respondents decided not to give evidence and resisted the subpoenas that they be compelled to give evidence for the Petitioners during the trial. He said if you decide that you are not going to the witness box to assist the Court in determining the truth, there are consequences to that action and further that this silence by the Respondents speak louder than words.Mr Mendes submitted that they Respondents are disqualified based on the fact that they are French citizens and that they were not qualified on Nomination Day therefore their votes must be void.In conclusion Mr Mendes told the Court that in relation to Mr Ronald Green the Petitioners do not ask that he stand election for two reasons;1) That having regard to his American citizenship he would not have been qualified2) Mr Green did not distribute Notices of Disqualification in the Constituency to warn the electors of Mr St. Jean’s disqualification.However in relation to Mr Skerrit Mr Mendes submitted to the Court that it would be justified in naming Mr Maynard Joseph as the winning candidate for the Vieille Case Constituency on the basis that Mr Maynard issued a Notice of Disqualification in the Sun Newspaper and also distributed them to the electors in the Constituency.Senior Counsel Anthony AstaphanSenior Counsel Anthony Astaphan informed the Court that a critical issue of fact for Her Ladyship Justice Thom to decide is ‘what were the allegations being made and that the Petitioners must plead and prove specific acts or conduct by the Respondents.Mr Astaphan noted that the Petitioners relied on the statement made by Mr Edison James at a public meeting in Lagoon, Roseau prior to the election which Mr James testified in Court that he did not say the Mr Skerrit owned a passport but rather said words to the effect, ‘Mr Skerrit are you under any oath of allegiance to a foreign state?’In response to Mr Mendes’ submission that in the absence of a response or denial on the part of the Respondents then it means it is true should not be accepted. He further explained that the Respondents did not have to respond to the allegations as they were not true or did not rely on factual information.According to Mr Astaphan there is no authority to compel the Respondents to provide documents and they should not now be condemned as the Court itself ruled that they did not have to produce the documents.Mr Astaphan further explained that the Respondents are under no obligation to admit or deny the accusations as they were asserting their legal right.According to Mr Astaphan the evidence of Mr Davidson Bruney who testified that he has an archive of all political meeting which were broadcast live on radio, who saves copies of printed media reports and audio could not provide any transcripts or live recordings to the Court to prove the admission of the Respondents. Instead the Petitioners have relied on witnesses handpicked by Mr Green and Mr Joseph.Mr Astaphan also highlighted major conflicts in the evidence of Mr Green and his witness Mr Felix Prosper who stated that he informed Mr Green of Mr St. Jean’s French citizenship on the 1st of December, 2009 after a public meeting in Lagoon and Mr Green who said under oath that he was told after the petitions were filed.Mr Astaphan said, ‘this raises serious questions about Mr Prosper’s truthfulness and his willingness as a supporter and political activist of Mr Green to say anything on his behalf. According to Mr Astaphan a person can by his own act attempt to withdraw or renounce his citizenship as he wants and this does not automatically constitute an admission of anything.Mr Astaphan further explained to the Court that the Petitioners could not produce any photographs or copy of the notices which were circulated in the Vieille Case Constituency when the petition was filed twenty-one days after the election. He also pointed out one of the witnesses for the Petitioners, Irvin Seaman who testified that Alex Dubois a campaign member for Mr Joseph called him to testify as they ‘could not find people to say they had seen the notices.’ Mr Astaphan also noted that the Petitioners had witnesses who could neither read nor write to testify that they had seen things on trees referring to the Notices of Disqualification.Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit outside Court this afternoon.[Mr Astaphan also pointed out that Mr Green testified that a leaflet was published by his political activists informing the electorate of his constituency that they should not vote for Mr St. Jean and that he had seen it a week before election, but all of his witnesses including Felix Prosper had never seen the leaflet until it was shown to them during cross examination.Mr Astaphan therefore submitted to the Court that these petitions should be dismissed as the Petitioners have not shown any evidence whatsoever in this trial.Senior Counsel Mendes however in reply to Mr Astaphan told the Court that it should not rely soley on Mr Astaphan’s statements and that she should look to the record and transcript in determining what the witnesses for the Petitioners said.He further noted that although the Petitioners have told the Court that they have taken all reasonable steps to renounce citizenship they did not produce any evidence to indicate this. He also explained that in Dominican law one must file a declaration of renunciation and not just issue a letter. According to Mr Mendes although Mr Skerrit was the one responsible to inform the President of the date of elections he waited until the 27th of November, 2009 which was three days before Nomination Day to formally write and renounce his citizenship and Mr St. Jean on the 30th of November which was one day before Nomination Day.Mr Mendes told Justice Thom that the Respondents should not only say that reasonable steps were taken but that ‘they must tell you what these steps were and how they have taken them’.At the end of the trial Senior Counsel informed Justice Thom that he wishes to commend Senior Counsel Mendes for the manner in which he conducted the trial.Justice Thom stated that she has every confidence in the Dominica Court staff that the transcripts of the trial would be made available to her within two weeks and that although she will be engaged in other trials she would make every effort to write her decision in this matter after she returns from her one week engagement in St. Vincent next week. She also indicated that she would give the decision for this trial her attention so that a decision can be rendered before 31st December, 2011.Court was adjourned sine die, meaning without a date.Dominica Vibes News