In a ruling delivered in the TT Hall of Justice this morning by Justice Frank Seepersad, the Court declared “that sections, 3, 4, and 13 of the Sedition Act, either individually or collectively, infringe section 1 of the constitution in that they are inconsistent and /or incompatible with the characteristics, features and tenets of a democratic state and therefore void and of no effect pursuant to section 2 of the constitution.”
The court was ruling in a claim filed by secretary general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Sat Maharaj and SDMS media house Central Broadcasting Services Ltd.
Attorneys representing Sat Maharaj , who has since died, and Central Broadcasting Services had sought a declaration that the sedition legislation breached the constitutional rights of citizens to freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of association and assembly.
Maharaj filed a constitutional claim after police, armed with a warrant, went to Central Broadcasting Services, after he made certain statements on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15, 2019.
Maharaj claimed that the legislation should be invalidated as it is overly broad, vague and uncertain. He claimed that the situation left citizens confused over whether they are in breach of the legislation.
Although Maharaj died last November, the claim proceeded on the basis that Central Broadcasting Services was also a claimant in the matter.
As a result of the ruling, it is expected that that there will be an immediate halt to a preliminary enquiry against president of the Public Services Association (PSA), Watson Duke, who was charged with sedition in August of last year over statements he made during a protest at TSTT, in 2018.
In a 46 page judgement, Justice Seepersad ruled that 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” the judge said.
Justice Seepersad stated that the vagueness, lack of clarity and uncertainty in the relevant provisions of the Sedition Act lead 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" said the judge.
Justice Seepersad said that 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”, he said.
The Court further declared 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.
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