UNC’s local government challenge set for Friday, media blanked from sitting

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Jacqueline Wilson

THE OPPOSITION UNC’s legal challenge against the Government’s decision to proclaim parts of the recently passed Local Government Reform Bill that could allow for local government elections to be delayed by a year comes up for hearing on Friday. The bill passed on June 14 with a simple majority in Parliament.

The matter has been assigned to Justice Jacqueline Wilson.

On Tuesday, attorneys for activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj filed the claim in the High Court. Balgobin-Maharaj said, as a voter in the Maracas/Santa Margarita electoral district, he is aggrieved by the decision taken by Cabinet and announced recently by Local Government and Rural Development Minister Faris Al-Rawi.

Friday’s hearing will take place virtually at 3 pm.

A request by Newsday to cover the proceedings was refused by the judge. A response from the Judiciary to the request said the judge indicated that the proceeding was a Chamber court hearing and only the parties and their attorney are allowed in attendance.

Balgobin-Maharaj, who is seeking the court’s permission to have the government’s decision reviewed, says, “There is the real risk that councillors, aldermen, and mayors will be unlawfully occupying their respective offices from December 3, 2022.”

Balgobin-Maharaj wants several orders and an injunction restraining all councillors and aldermen from acting beyond December 3.

The 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 elections.”

The claim, which seeks declarations to put a stop to the alleged government plan to postpone the local election, 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.

Balgobin-Maharaj is also 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.

“The decision also denies the electorate of their legitimate expectation that the councillors (whom) they elected in 2019 would only be in office for a three-year term.