Tuesday hearing for UNC local government election injunction

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Political activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj. –

NEXT TUESDAY, the High Court will hear arguments on the emergency application filed for injunctive relief as part of the legal challenge to the possible delaying of local government elections by a year.

On Wednesday, Justice Jacqueline Wilson set November 29 for oral submissions on the injunction application of activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj who is asking the court to restrain all councillors and aldermen, who were elected after the December 2, 2019 local government election, from acting beyond December 3, 2022.

In the alternative, Balgobin-Maharaj wants the offices of all councillors and aldermen declared vacant from December 4.

His application was filed on Monday, two days after the judge set January for the trial of his challenge of the Government’s decision to proclaim parts of the recently-passed Local Government Reform Act.

The act allows for the possible delaying of local government elections by a year. Wilson had set January 9 and 10 as trial dates.

Balgobin-Maharaj wanted a decision on his challenge before December 3, when the term of councillors and aldermen would have expired if the law was not changed.

In the injunction application, Balgobin-Maharaj contends, “Should the councillors and aldermen be permitted to conduct their functions in circumstances where they might be occupying their offices unlawfully and without legitimate authority, it would be an affront to the rule of law and contrary to the democratic principles contained in the Constitution.

“It is decidedly not in the public interest for such a state of affairs to be permitted. The court, as the guardian of the Constitution and the last bastion and protector of the rule of law, ought not to allow such a risk to occur especially in circumstances where granting the injunction will not cause any prejudice or injustice. The court has an inherent and overriding duty to uphold and vindicate the rule of law.”

Balgobin-Maharaj, a voter in the Maracas/Santa Margarita electoral district, said he was aggrieved by the decision taken by Cabinet and announced recently by Local Government and Rural Development Minister Faris Al-Rawi.

The amendments to the Municipal Corporations Act were passed on June 14 with a simple majority in Parliament, and the two sections proclaimed on November 7, which extend the life of the terms of all councillors and aldermen by an extra year, are being challenged in the lawsuit.

His lawsuit contends the decision of the Cabinet was unauthorised, contrary to law and an abuse of power to “retrospectively apply an amendment to the law to increase the terms of councillors which ultimately delays the local government election.”

The activist wants declarations to put a stop to the alleged government plan to postpone the local election, and said any attempt to delay it by retrospectively applying the amendments to the Municipal Corporations Act would be a fraud committed on the electorate, in bad faith, and would amount to improper use of the legislation.

He is asking to court to quash the declaration that local government elections are now due between December 4, 2023, to March 4, 2024, and the decision to extend the term of office of all councillors and aldermen.

On Wednesday, the judge said she will give her ruling on the injunction application at the close of oral submissions next Tuesday. Balgobin-Maharaj is represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Renuka Rambhajan, Robert Abdool-Mitchell, Natasha Bisram, and Vishaal Siewsaran. The Cabinet and Al-Rawi are represented by Douglas Mendes, SC, Rishi Dass and Anala Mohan.