Dr. Douglas and Attorney General Byron chat in the courtroom. (Photo by Loshaun Dixon)

By Loshaun Dixon

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts — Dr. Denzil Douglas’ having a Dominican diplomatic passport does not make him a citizen of that country, but is it an acknowledgement of allegiance?

That is what the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in Basseterre will decide after moving forward with a case brought against the former Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and current Leader of the Opposition Dr. Denzil Douglas regarding the latter’s use of a diplomatic passport from Dominica.

The decision was made by High Court Judge, His Lordship Justice Trevor Ward QC in the case brought by Attorney General the Hon. Vincent Byron against Douglas.

Judge Ward asked all parties involved in the case to submit their summaries after which he will announce a date for the case to resume.

Attorney General Byron is asking the High Court to declare that Dr. Douglas has vacated his seat in the National Assembly by holding and using a diplomatic passport of the Commonwealth of Dominica diplomatic passport. The Constitutional Motion also seeks an injunction to restrain Dr. Douglas from taking part in the proceedings of the National Assembly.

Section 28 (1) of the Constitution of St. Christopher and Nevis and Section Six (6) of the National Assemblies Act both provide that “a person shall not be qualified to be elected or appointed as a member if he is by virtue of his own act under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state,” said Attorney General Byron.

However, Dr. Douglas continues to insist that despite holding the Dominican diplomatic passport, he is only a citizen of St. Christopher and Nevis.

In court, Dr. Douglas and Byron were seated side-by-side and could be seen having conversations as the court proceeded. Expert witnesses on the matter brought by legal counsel representing the Attorney General Douglas Mendes were cross examined by Dr. Douglas’ counsel Anthony Astaphan.

The first expert witness on the stand was Reginald Armour a Trinidad and Tobago attorney who while being questioned by Astaphan indicated that at the time of the application for the passport by Dr. Douglas he did not expect Douglas to be a Dominican citizen.

Armour said that it was for the court to determine if it was an important factor if Dr. Douglas labels himself a St. Christopher and Nevis citizen when he travels.

Next, Justin Simon, a former Antigua and Barbuda Attorney General was grilled by Astaphan and also agreed that being in possession of a Dominican diplomatic passport does not necessarily make Dr. Douglas a Dominica citizen.

Gerald Burton a Dominican Attorney was next called to the stand and questioned by Mendes, who admitted that a diplomatic passport is the same as a normal passport given to Dominican citizens, except for the use of the word diplomatic.

Mendes also admitted that the use of the passport by Dr. Douglas while travelling would fall under the protection of Dominica.

Justice Ward adjourned following Burton’s appearance with Dr. Douglas’ team, giving the defence until Jan. 25 to file written submission and a right of reply one week later.

After the adjournment, Astaphan explained to media how the case would be defended.

“Our case is a very simple one, we contend that the diplomatic passport was given to Dr. Douglas as a matter of professional and personal courtesy,” said Astaphan. “He applied for it [the passport] as required under the regulations and did not declare his Dominican citizenship. At no time, even when he travelled with his regular passport or with the diplomatic passport he always declared his nationality as St. Christopher and Nevis.”

Astaphan further declared that refusal to grant Dr. Douglas a diplomatic passport by the Harris administration led another Caribbean leader to grant him that courtesy.

“One of the points I really wanted to make is the reason why Dr. Douglas was put in this position with the diplomatic passport was because this Prime Minister and this minister of Foreign Affairs refused in accordance with protocol to give a diplomatic passport to former prime minister and Leader of the Opposition,” said Astaphan.

“When Dr. Douglas explained the situation to the Prime Minister of Dominica he was astounded and disappointed. As a result of that depravation he was given [the Dominican passport]. Had the common courtesy been given to the former prime minister, we would not be here today.”

Astaphan commented the passport had to say Dr. Douglas was a Dominican because it was a default setting when an applicant did not declaring citizenship.

“We had evidence from Gaston Harris who was instrumental in the implementation of the passport system,” Astaphan said. “He said the default setting does that automatically. Astona Browne who was part of the Ministry of National Security said the same thing. The Dominica Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Dr. Douglas did not acquire citizenship and because he did not declare citizenship the default setting put Dominica in.

“You heard the expert evidence, you can make your own judgement,” Astaphan said. “It is clear that all the experts, including those representing the Attorney General that the documentation revealed to them that every time Dr. Douglas travelled he declared his citizenship to be St. Christopher and Nevis. It is regrettable for a former prime minister to have to go through this kind of harassment, but we will see what happens at the end of the case.”

Dr. Douglas chimed in that he was pleased with the morning’s proceedings.

“I think the case is going as we anticipated,” said Dr. Douglas. “I have always said that it is a pity that taxpayer’s money is being wasted in this way, when in our hospitals there are patients who are being under-serviced because of the lack of essential drugs for those who are critically ill and for those who are acutely and chronically ill. This is an abuse of taxpayer’s money and is part of the political charade that Dr. Harris is pursuing it is a vendetta and is part of his vindictiveness which has become part of his very nature.”

Dr. Douglas slammed Dr. Harris for the move nothing he had not done the same thing to the former prime minister of St. Christopher and Nevis or his predecessor Dr. the Rt. Excellent and Rt. Hon. Sir Kennedy A. Simmonds.

“I think our citizens of St. Christopher and Nevis should realise the type of person who is now in the leadership of our country. I gave Sir. Kennedy a diplomatic passport when the time was required and I believe that it was important that we understand all this is happening because of the vindictiveness of Dr. Harris in refusing to provide a diplomatic passport to a former head of government as Leader of the Opposition.

Dr. Douglas noted that he and his team are optimistic about the outcome of the case.

“Of course we are very optimistic in the sense that I am not a citizen of Dominica and I never pretended to be one.”

Mendes refused to comment on the case, noting he does not speak about cases that are still on-going. Byron gave an overview of the day’s proceedings stating that Dr. Douglas being a citizen of Dominica is not being tested.

“The constitution said you have to show an acknowledgement, have an allegiance it does not say at all in the constitution that you have to swear an allegiance.

“Having accepted and used the passport, Dr. Douglas has not denied that. He has filed in the court that he has visited seven countries at least ten times using the Dominican diplomatic passport and the case is having use that passport he falls under the protection of Dominica and using the case precedent of Joyce in England in 1944 in the House of Lords case we say that is an acknowledgement of allegiance.”

Questioned on whether it could be proven that there was acknowledgement of allegiance Byron said the use of it confirms the acknowledgement.

“Dr. Douglas admits that he signed the form that allowed him to the Dominican passport he accepted it and he used it and that is the acknowledgement. The use of it is the acknowledgement of his use of it; having used it he acknowledges the protection of the Dominican passport.

“The court has to decide one way or the other that the case that we have presented is a very strong case and that using the precedent of the House of Lords…there is a very strong belief on our case that we will be successful in this matter,” he reiterated.