Wed | Feb 19, 2020

High Court judge rules sections of Sedition Act unconstitutional

Published:Tuesday | January 14, 2020 | 12:22 AM

PORT OF SPAIN (CMC):

A High Court judge yesterday ruled that two sections of the Sedition Act infringe on several rights of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, including the right to enjoy freedom of thought and expression, to join political parties and express political views, as well as the freedom of the press.

In a 46-page ruling, Justice Frank Seepersad said Sections 3 and 4 of the Sedition Act were patently inconsistent and are at odds with Section 1 of the Constitution which guarantees that Trinidad and Tobago is a sovereign democratic State, as these provisions impose disproportionate and unjustified restrictions on free speech, expression and thought.

“In addition, they violate the Rule of Law because they lack certainty, are vague and so their status as law cannot be reasonably justified in this sovereign democratic state” he added.

Seepersad made the ruling in the case brought by the late secretary general of the Hindu-based Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, who in May last year filed a lawsuit after police executed search warrants on the radio and TV stations of the group, taking away in the process recordings of the April 15 television programme “Maha Sabha Strikes Back”.

Maharaj, 88, who died last November had on his programme described Tobagonians as lazy people, more interested in racing crabs and goats and targeting white women to rob and rape them.

But he challenged the lawfulness and constitutionality of certain provisions of the Sedition Act Chapter 11.04, particularly sections 3, 4 and 13 which he said were vague, uncertain and therefore illegal.

Section 3 sets out what is considered a seditious act, while section 4 details the particulars of the offences and section 13 deals with search warrants.

Maharaj and Central Broadcasting Services Ltd claimed their rights to enjoyment of property, freedom of thought and expression, and freedom of the press and to express political views, among others, were being infringed by the legislation.

In the ruling, Seepersad agreed that the sections complained about are vague, lacked clarity, and 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.”