By Yankuba Jallow
The Banjul High Court presided over by Chief Justice Hassan Bubacar Jallow, yesterday dismissed the election petition filed by the United Democratic Party’s candidate for CRR North’s Chairpersonship Elections, Aussainou Jawara. Justice Jallow stated in his ruling that the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the matter.
The petition which was instituted by Aussainou Jobarteh, the candidate for the United Democratic Party (UDP), narrowly lost to the GDC candidate, Saihou Jawara, in the CRR North’s Chairpersonship elections, held on 12 May 2018.
This petition was first filed in the Supreme Court, but was struck out because of lack of jurisdiction. Subsequently, Jobarteh filed his petition before the High Court, presided over by Chief Justice, Hassan B. Jallow, acting in his capacity as a High Court Judge.
In his objection, Lawyer Mosses Richards told the Court that it is barred from hearing the petition; that the petition was filed late at the said Court.
He argued that as per Section 98 of the Elections Act, after 30 days following the date of the announcement of the election results, the High Court has no jurisdiction to extend or hear the matter.
“The Elections Act notwithstanding the word ‘may’, does not provide for the extension of time beyond 30 days. They are excessively out of time. No Court will allow an application especially an election petition that is 30 days out of time. Every Court has jurisdiction and it will be unreasonable to extend the time of the petition. The Elections Act does not vest this Court any powers, to hear the matter,” Richards told the Court.
He maintained that it has been over three months since the elections of Mayors and Chairpersons were held, and this ejects the power the High Court to hear the application. He urged the Court to act within its jurisdiction as defined and limited by Statute (Law); that the High Court lacks the jurisdiction to hear the application sought by the petitioner.
“Jurisdiction is the life wire of the Courts and it cannot be taken away, even if the parties agree to it. This Court like any other, should not allow its jurisdiction to be made futile,” he argued; that the provision of Section 98 of the Elections Act, provides for a 30 day time limit, and that the Court will lack jurisdiction to hear any application brought thereafter.
Lawyer Antouman AB Gaye for the petitioners, pleaded to the Court to allow the case to be heard; that the petitioner was misled by an official of the registry of the Courts.
“The intention of filing this petition was at the High Court, but the petitioner was misled by the registrar of the High Court who told him that the case is for the Supreme Court and not the High Court,” Lawyer Gaye said.
Lawyer Gaye argued that the mistake was that of the Courts through its officials (registrar), and it will be unreasonable to make the petitioner suffer for a mistake he hasn’t committed.
“It is for the public interest that the matter should be heard, rather than not allowing it through mere technicalities. The blame squarely lies at the registry of the High Court. The Elections Act under Section 98, does not have the word ‘must’, meaning it is not mandatory for the case to be filed within 30 days. Looking at the circumstances of this petition, I urge the Court to resolve the matter in favour of the petitioner,” Lawyer Gaye submitted.
Lawyer Richards in his reply told the Court, that a professional lawyer should not act like a layman. He said the excuse that the petitioner has given the Court, is unsubstantiated and lacks merit; that the petitioner filed the case under the advice of a Lawyer.
In giving his ruling, Justice Assan B Jallow said: “They filed their process at the Supreme Court and not the High Court. The public interest in this matter, is for it to be struck out, because you were given 30 days, but allowed it to slip over. Equity aids the vigilant and not the indolent. You were given 30 days and that has elapsed. The motion before the Court is defective both in form and substance. The motion is therefore, statute barred.”