‘Candidate X’ awaits CJ’s decision on narrow point

| 14/04/2017

(CNS Elections): A court order has prevented the press from reporting the name of a candidate who appeared in court Thursday defending a challenge by the Elections Office to his qualification as a potential member of the Legislative Assembly. ‘Candidate X’ has been challenged over a spent dishonesty conviction from the early 1990’s and, just a few weeks before polling day, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie must decide a narrow point which will see the would-be MLA cleared to run or be disqualified. 

The question the judge must settle is whether or not the constitutional disqualification relating to dishonesty convictions includes spent convictions.

Solicitor General Jacqueline Wilson argued that the constitution is supreme and above all other laws, so regardless of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Law, the constitution clearly states that a dishonesty conviction from any court disqualifies a person.

Should there be any doubt, she said, time limits that had been included in the previous constitution were removed from the current 2009 constitution, which made the intention of the framers even clearer. They did not express a time period, implying that a dishonesty conviction from any time and anywhere bars a potential candidate from becoming a member of the Legislative Assembly.

But Candidate X’s attorney argued that a spent conviction is no longer a conviction. Graham Hampson, who was part of the legal team that successfully argued that Tara Rivers was qualified for election despite having an American passport and not fulfilling the residency requirements in the Elections Law, said that if the Rehabilitation of Offenders Law meant anything, then his client did not have a conviction.

He said there was no distinction between an innocent person and a rehabilitated one under the law and if the constitution meant to override that, it should have been made far clearer. Rather than expanding and solidifying rights, which is the point of a constitutional revision, if the Attorney General’s Chambers were right in this case, the constitution had, without clearly expressing it, removed the pre-existing right of a rehabilitated offender to have their character wiped clean.

The removal of a conviction after a given period is to provide a rehabilitated former offender with a clean slate and to “give him back his character”, which cannot be taken away so easily, he said.

Hampson also argued that from 2007, when Candidate X’s conviction was spent, until the 2009 constitution was implemented there would have been no bar to his client running for office at all, as previous constitutions did not refer specifically to dishonesty convictions and was confined to people who had been jailed for one year or more.

The chief justice will deliver his ruling on Tuesday, ahead of two other hearings relating to challenges of candidates over status and residency periods.

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Category: Candidates

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