High Court Judge Frank Seepersad has struck down elements of this country's colonial-age sedition legislation.
Delivering a 50 page judgement at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain this morning, Justice Seepersad ruled that Sections 3 and 4 of the legislation, which prescribe the offence of sedition, are unconstitutional.
Justice Seepersad ruled that the legislation is vague, uncertain and can lead to arbitrary application.
He also ruled that the legislation is not compatible with a sovereign democratic state as it limits constitutional rights to freedom of thought and expression and freedom of the press.
The novel constitutional challenge was brought by former secretary-general of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS), the late Satnarayan Maharaj, before his death in November, last year.
In the lawsuit, Maharaj's lawyers contended that the legislation—which was passed in 1920 and amended several times between 1961 and 1976—breached citizens' constitutional rights to freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association and assembly.
They claimed that Sections 3 and 6 of the legislation, which defines a seditious intention and the publication of such, is unpredictable and allows for discrimination.
In order to succeed in the claim, Justice Seepersad needed to agree to bypass the legislation's saving clause, which precludes it from judicial interpretation except in scenarios when it can be found incompatible with the provisions of the constitution.
Maharaj's lawyers contended that the savings clause was only meant for a limited period of time and should be declared undemocratic and unconstitutional.
The Attorney General's Office called on Justice Seepersad to reject the lawsuit as it claimed that it may lead to a mountain of litigation from persons attempting to avoid being prosecuted.
Although it admitted that sedition laws have been removed in some countries, it noted that they still exist in South Africa and Canada.
"The right to criticise does not mean you cannot attract the penalties every State has put in place to protect its integrity," Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, who led the legal team for the AG's Office, said in his submissions in the case.
Maharaj filed the lawsuit after police executed search warrants on the SDMS's media house Central Broadcasting Services, after Maharaj made a series of incendiary statements on his Maha Sabha Strikes Back programme on TV Jaagriti on April 15, 2019.
In the broadcast, Maharaj had claimed that citizens living in Tobago were lazy and labelled the men as rapists.
No criminal charges were brought against him, although he had suggested that such was inevitable while addressing supporters during the SDMS Indian Arrival Day celebrations.
Several trade unions considered joining Maharaj's claim after Public Services Association (PSA) President Watson Duke was charged with sedition over statements he made during a protest at TSTT, last year. However, no one stepped forward to formally join the case when it went on trial, last December.
After Maharaj passed away on November 16, his son Vijay applied to be substituted as the claimant in the lawsuit.
Maharaj was represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Rhea Khan. The AG's Office was also represented by Josephina Baptiste-Mohammed and Sean Julien.