Court strikes down ABLP disciplinary action against Asot Michael as unlawful

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Court strikes down ABLP disciplinary action against Asot Michael as unlawful

PRESS RELEASE

St Johns Antigua, Dec 13, 2022 – The High Court of Antigua and Barbuda has set aside attempts by the Executive of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party to take disciplinary action against Hon. Asot Michael engineered to bar him from being an ABLP candidate for the St Peter constituency in the upcoming general election.

In a ruling delivered on December 12th, 2022, Justice Jan Drysdale declared that two “purported” disciplinary tribunals engaged to deal with the complaints were illegally appointed and their decisions were therefore null and void:

“It is hereby declared that:

The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (“ABLP”) disciplinary tribunal against the Applicant referred to in the Notice of 29 September 2020 and under the hand of Lionel “Max” Hurst, the 2nd Respondent (the “First Purported Tribunal”) was unlawfully constituted in breach of the provisions of the ABLP Constitution.

The further ABLP disciplinary tribunal referred to in the Notice of 28 October 2020 and under the hand of Mr. Barry Knight (“Second Purported Tribunal”) is unlawfully constituted in breach of the provisions of the ABLP Constitution.

Any decisions made or purported to be made by the Tribunals are null and void.

The legal battle to stop the disciplinary proceedings has been in progress for over two years and the Court had granted injunctive relief to Hon. Michael on separate occasions restraining the ABLP effort to prevent him from functioning as the duly elected parliamentary representative of the St. Peter Constituency.

According to the four-term Member of Parliament:

“In recent years, my harmonious relationship with the ABLP has been undermined by the Political Leader/Prime Minister and I have had to take several actions in Court to protect my rights as a member of the ABLP. This includes my right to contest the upcoming election as a candidate of the ABLP and in particular the right to not have another person unlawfully run in my place.

“Despite several Court Orders, the Prime Minister continues to be a law onto himself and seeks to use his Executive Office to achieve his personal political goals”.

The Prime Minister and his colleagues in the ABLP Executive believe that this matter is a political fight involving members and organs of the party and should therefore not be determined in court.

Justice Drysdale disagrees:

“Whilst the parties are all within the political arena, the matter which concerns the court is an allegation of the constitution of the ABLP which in effect is a contract binding on the members of the ABLP, not being properly utilized to discipline and or effect his removal. There is a clear and legitimate cause of action which the Applicant regardless of his political status is entitled to pursue”.

The Judge commented on the credibility of the main witnesses in the examination of the evidence in total that led to her decision:

“I found the Applicant (Asot Michael) to be a more  credible witness than the Second Respondent (Lionel Max Hurst). The Applicant struck me to be frank and forthright. The Applicant was also unwavering in his evidence… The Second Respondent appeared to be evading the truth as it related to the provision of the minutes for the 2015 and 2018 conventions… It therefore waxes strange that (as the only witness for the Respondents) the Second Respondent was not aware what documentation he provided to the Court for consideration. Further I also found the Second Respondent’s testimony that he did not appreciate that the need for those minutes to be baffling… Therefore, I do not accept that the Second Respondent’s assertion of being unaware on whether the minutes were provided to be a reflection of the truth…

“The Second Respondent unfortunately by not being candid with this Court has rendered his testimony to be more suspect than that of the Applicant. I therefore accept the Applicant’s evidence in this regard over the Respondent’s”.

Contrary to the opinion of the Respondents on judicial resolution of this issue, the High Court judge believes there is a useful purpose to be served in granting remedies of declaratory relief:

“The parties are bound by the ABLP constitution, a contractual document… If the claim by the Applicant bears fruit, declarations would serve to clarify the issues and also ensure that the power exercised pursuant to the ABLP constitution is done lawfully and fairly. Further the parties being constantly at loggerheads with each other over issues stemming from the disciplinary process, a declaration or the dismissal thereof would bring some finality to these issues and would serve as vindication for the successful party”.

In this matter involving the Constitution of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party and a Disciplinary Tribunal, Ms. Kema Benjamin of Marshall & Co. represented Hon. Asot Michael and Dr. David Dorsett represented Mary Clare Hurst, Lionel Max Hurst and Gaston Browne, key executive members of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party.

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