PORT-OF-SPAIN – A High Court judge has ruled that Trinidad and Tobago’s Sedition Act lacks clarity.
Justice Frank Seepersad delivered the ruing at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain on Monday in a case brought by the late secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Satnarayan Maharaj and its media house Central Broadcasting Services Limited (CBSL).
Maharaj, better know as Sat, and CBSL wanted a declaration that sections 3, 4 and 13 of the Sedition Act infringed the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution of TT. These included the rights to property, to join a political party, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
In his 51-page judgement, Justice Seepersad concluded, “This Court has found that the vagueness, lack of clarity and uncertainty in the relevant provisions of the Sedition Act leads to an arbitrary application of the law.
“One of the core principles associated with the rule of law is the principle of legal certainty. The rule of law demands that citizens should be able to regulate their conduct. Legislation which is hopelessly vague does not facilitate such regulation and cannot qualify as law.
“This Court is resolute in its view that sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act violate the rule of law. They do not qualify as law and must be struck out as these sections do not meet the criteria of legal certainty. Given the evident lack of clarity and having found that they do not meet the standard to qualify as a law, they cannot be treated as “existing law” so as to be saved by Section 6 of the Constitution.”
The judge said, “Given the history of Trinidad and Tobago from the period when there was a Monarchy to the post 1976 era when Trinidad and Tobago became a Republic, the impugned provisions now have no place in this sovereign democratic state where the people are sovereign. The unjustified limits which the impugned provisions of the Sedition Act impose upon the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press violate the binding guarantee that this Republic is a sovereign democratic state as outlined under Section 1 of the Constitution and pursuant to Section 2 of the Constitution, laws which are inconsistent with the Constitution are void to the extent of the inconsistency.”
The lawsuit was filed after police executed a search warrant on the offices of the station at the corner of Pasea Road and the Churchill Roosevelt Highway in Tunapuna in April last year after comments made by Maharaj on the programme The Maha Sabha Strikes Back. The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago had warned the CBSL saying that Maharaj’s statements “can be seen as divisive and inciteful”
Maharaj, who died on November 16, 2019, had said, “And now let’s get down to Tobago ah little bit and what’s happening there. Nothing going correct in Tobago. They lazy, six out ah ten of them working for the Tobago House of Assembly, getting money from Port-of-Spain. They doh want wok and when they get a job. They go half pass nine and 10 o’clock they go for a breakfast.
“The rest of them able-bodied men, they doh wah no wok ah tall. Run crab race, run goat race and go on the beach hunting for white meat. Yuh see ah white girl dey. They rape she, they take away all she camera and everything…
“That is what Tobago is all about but anything they want, they going to get. So now we have a lot of ferries ahready. Our Prime Minister is renting a ferry to take Tobagonians from Scarborough bring them to Port-of-Spain so they could buy market in Port-of-Spain market. They ain’t growing nothing dey, they coming to make market.
“From Tobago we paying for them to come and pay market. And you know how much our Prime Minister paying our money? Everyday $263,580 a day. For this boat to bring them lazy people from Scarborough to come and make market in Port-of-Spain and take them back…”
Justice Seepersad issued the following declarations and orders:
1.The Court declares that sections 3, 4 of the Sedition Act contravene the principle of legality and/or legal certainty, in that they are vague, uncertain and therefore illegal, null and void and they offend the rule of law;
- The Court declares that sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act infringe the right of the individual to enjoy freedom of thought and expression, the right to join political parties and express political views and the right to freedom of the press which are all rights which are tenets of a sovereign democratic state and individually or collectively these provisions infringe the binding declaration recorded at Section 1 of the Constitution;
- The Court declares that sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act are inconsistent and/or incompatible with the characteristics, features and tenets of a democratic state and pursuant to Section 2 of the Constitution they are void to the extent of their inconsistency with the Constitution.
The claimants – Maharaj and CBSL – were represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC, Jagdeo Singh, Kiel Taklalsingh, Dinesh Rambally and Stefan Ramkissoon instructed by Rhea Khan.
While the Attorney General was represented by Fyard Hosein SC, Vanessa Gopaul, Josefina Baptiste-Mohammed instructed by Vincent Jardine.
See full judgement below: