Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) secretary general Satnarayan Maharaj has been asked to reconsider his application for an injunction seeking to bar the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from instituting sedition charges against him pending the determination of his novel constitutional challenge against this country’s colonial-age sedition legislation.
High Court Judge Frank Seepersad made the suggestion as Maharaj’s injunction application came up for hearing before him at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday afternoon.
Seepersad suggested that the application may be premature as DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, was not listed as a party in Maharaj’s constitutional motion and only responded to his initial request on Monday evening.
In the letter, which was obtained by Guardian Media, Gaspard stated that Maharaj’s request “pre-supposes” that he had been asked to make a determination on whether Maharaj should be charged. Under Section 9 of the Sedition Act, sedition charges can only be brought with the written consent of the DPP.
“I am not aware of any determination being made by the police with respect to charges nor have I been asked by the police to consent to any proceedings against your client,” Gaspard said, as claimed that it would be improper to give such an undertaking.
Referring to Gaspard’s response, Seepersad suggested that a separate judicial review lawsuit challenging Gaspard’s decision may be more appropriate in the circumstances.
Maharaj’s lawyer Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, seemed to accept the proposal as he stated that it would be “very unlikely” that his client would pursue the injunction application further.
During the hearing, Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, who is representing the State in the substantive constitutional challenge, said that he wanted to expedite the case to have it heard and determined before the end of the year.
Seepersad agreed as he set aside dates in November when submissions can be made.
The parties are expected to decide on a hearing date when they return before Seepersad on July 8. Maharaj is also expected to indicate whether he still desires to pursue the injunction application.
The legal challenge arose after police executed a search warrant on the SDMS’s media company Central Broadcasting Services in late April.
The search was related to controversial statements made by Maharaj on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15.
Maharaj claimed that citizens living in Tobago are lazy and labelled the men as rapists.
The Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) issued a warning to Maharaj and the company over the comments, which is now being challenged by them in a separate lawsuit. Maharaj and the company have also initiated legal proceedings against the T&T Police Service (TTPS) over failing to disclose the warrant used for the search.
The TTPS has maintained that the warrant was lawfully obtained and executed but has refused to disclose it to them unless it is ordered to do so at the end of the lawsuit.
While no criminal charges have been brought against Maharaj and he suggested that such was inevitable while addressing supporters during SDMS Indian Arrival Day celebrations, last month.
Police executed a second search warrant on the company, last Thursday.
Maharaj is also being represented by Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Kavita Roop-Boodoo.
About Maharaj’s lawsuit
In a constitutional motion lawsuit, Maharaj’s lawyers are claiming that the legislation, which was passed in 1920 and amended several times, between 1961 and 1976, breached citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association and assembly.
They stated that Section 3 and 6 of the legislation, which defines a seditious intention and the publication of such, is unpredictable and allows for discrimination.
In order to succeed in the claim, Maharaj’s lawyers must also get past the legislation’s saving clause, which precludes it from judicial interpretation except in scenarios when it can be found incompatible with the provisions of the constitution.
They contend that the savings clause was only meant for a limited period of time and should be declared undemocratic and unconstitutional.
They also claim that the colonial legislation has been removed from several Commonwealth countries and even in the United Kingdom.
Reporter: Derek Achong