Opposition leader Allen Chastanet has announced plans to appeal the August 18 High Court dismissal of his application for leave to bring a claim for judicial review in the Comptroller of Customs’ decision to withdraw a case against Dr. Ernest Hilaire.
“There is too much at stake not to continue this case,” Chastanet told a news conference Tuesday, during which he read the following statement:
Last week, the Judge of the High Court denied my application for leave for a Judicial Review of the Comptroller of Customs’ decision to withdraw the case against Ernest Hilaire filed by the Department of Customs.
This case was brought by Customs when a luxury vehicle, namely a Range Rover was exported to St.Lucia from the United Kingdom in the name of the St.Lucia High Commission but upon arrival, such vehicle was claimed personally by Ernest Hilaire.
When Customs’ requests for proof of individual ownership of the Range Rover were ignored by Hilaire, the Controller of Customs filed a claim. Upon this Government assuming office, the new Comptroller, without any evidence of ownership being presented by Hilaire, withdrew the claim.
The learned judge last week made clear that he would not consider the facts or merits of the case against Ernest Hilaire, but only contemplated whether our application for a Judicial Review met the necessary threshold.
He decided that we did not provide sufficient evidence as to the DPP’s official role in the case and as such, he agreed that the Comptroller of Customs was allowed to use his discretion to withdraw or terminate the case.
Surprisingly, considering this was an administrative matter, the judge also awarded costs to Hilaire. This decision in no way exonerates Ernest Hilaire of the allegations made against him.
My legal advisors and I are currently reviewing the Court’s decision with the intention of appealing the decision. It is my strong belief that this is a matter of public interest and the Comptroller of Customs owes the public of St Lucia an explanation of his unilateral decision to withdraw the case.
The person involved is a senior politician with a lot of influence within this administration and we must all be satisfied that he was not treated differently from any ordinary citizen. Crucially, given the heightened publicity surrounding this case, it was imperative that the Comptroller protect the integrity of his office by being fully transparent.
The purpose of the Judicial Review is to hold the Comptroller accountable to the people and to explain why he chose not to consult the Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions, the Director of Finance or the former Comptroller before deciding to withdraw the case.
In his position, one of the most important Civil Service positions, integrity must guide all his decisions. He must also explain why he has accepted the Bill of Lading presented as proof of ownership, especially in light of the evidence that that vehicle was registered in the name of the St Lucia High Commission which means it belonged to the Government and People of St.Lucia.
He must also explain how Ernest Hilaire was able to clear a vehicle from Customs duty-free without providing the requisite evidence that he owned the vehicle.
The United Workers Party will continue to pursue this matter until all legal means have been exhausted. We believe it is critical that all public officers are held accountable to their pledge to uphold the laws of the Country and protect the best interest of the public without favour. No officer should be allowed simply use his/her discretion without being transparent and accountable.
This administration continues to make decisions which put our regional and international reputation in jeopardy and we must question public officers who play a part in that. There is too much at stake for us all otherwise.