The Leader of the Opposition, Allen Chastanet, has sought leave of the High Court to grant a Judicial Review of the decision by the Customs and Excise Department to withdraw the prosecution of Dr. Ernest Hilaire over the importation of a Land Rover Sport vehicle.
According to Chastanet, the decision to discontinue the case in December 2021, despite a public outcry for answers, was shrouded in secrecy, with the Comptroller of Customs yet to offer any explanation, despite the fact that he, by letter dated January 4th 2022, posed several questions regarding the withdrawal of the case.
The Application for Judicial Review was filed with the High Court on April 5th 2022 and makes the case that the Comptroller of Customs Mr. Sherman Emmanuel and Customs Inspector Mr. Paul Noel unlawfully caused three charges against Dr. Hilaire to be withdrawn.
“The Leader of the Opposition’s Application to the Courts presents a strong, incriminating case of serious violations of the rules of natural justice, violations of due process of law and the lack of the administration of the Customs Control and Management Act,” stated a press release from the opposition.
The Application requests that the decision to withdraw the cases be quashed and that the prosecution be reinstated on the basis that Hilaire has failed to comply with the directive of the Comptroller of Customs to produce documents for the said vehicle.
Among the several reasons given for seeking the relief of the courts was that the two individuals did not have the authority under the Customs Acts to withdraw the case; that the Director of Public Prosecution had taken over the Customs case, hence the power to discontinue proceedings was a decision of the DPP.
According to Chastanet, the Application also highlights conflicts of interest in the fact that the Customs Comptroller breached the principles of natural justice by obtaining legal advice from the Attorney General who had previously served as Hilaire’s lawyer in the same case.
“It is further noted in the Application that the current Comptroller and the Customs Inspector failed to render the evidence gathered from former Comptroller of Customs Mr. Peter Chiquot which was admissible and provided a realistic prospect of conviction. The 17-page Application lists in great detail all the known facts associated with the case, dating back to April 2015 when a Land Rover Discovery Sport was purchased in England and registered in the name of the Saint Lucia High Commission in London, hence a state asset. The Land Rover was then imported into Saint Lucia by Ernest Hilaire and was given a Customs pre-delivery, pending submissions of documents to perfect the entry. Years passed by with the vehicle on pre-delivery, when in 2018, Customs requested a supplier’s commercial invoice which Dr. Hilaire through his attorney refused to provide to the Customs Department in order to close the entry,” stated the press release from the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
The release further stated that the almost two years of correspondence back and forth between the Customs Department and Dr. Hilaire produced no results of the requested documents and that the Customs Department, in consultation with the Office of the DPP, brought three charges against Dr. Hilaire.
Chastanet, who addressed the High Court Application, explained the importance of the resolution of the case.
Noted Chastanet, “We have exhausted all efforts to get answers in the matter. It would seem that the Customs Department, the Attorney General and the Prime Minister who was present when the case was withdrawn don’t feel they owe the public of Saint Lucia an explanation. Now, we turn to the Judiciary to allow a review of this matter; to look at all the breaches, inconsistencies, irregularities and even the conflicts of interest that led to this case being withdrawn. The public deserves answers. As I have said before, this case has implications for us all, not to mention the reputation of our institutions. At this point this Application to the High Court is our only recourse to figure out the sordid details of what transpired and the deals that were made in this case.”
“This case should have been decided by the courts in the first place. Justice must be seen to be done,” he added.