Caribbean News

CCJ to hear Guyana’s elections case

The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Thursday said it has given no indication as to whether or not it has jurisdiction to hear an appeal filed by the two senior members of the main opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) in relation to a Court of Appeal ruling in Guyana regarding the disputed March 2 regional and general election in that country.

President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders, told the attorneys for all the parties during the case management conference that contrary to public statements being made outside of the court, “we have not decided the issue of jurisdiction.

“It is an issue we have to decide (and) in order to decide to we have to put in place certain management processes and receive your submissions and that is all that is being done up to this point,’ he said.

The CCJ, which is Guyana’s highest court, also indicated that it wanted to re-assure the entire world and specifically the people of Guyana that it “will treat with this matter on the basis of what is submitted.

‘We are not going to have regard to anything outside of this Court,” Justice Saunders told the parties.

Guyana’s Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, and Irfaan Ali, the PPP/C presidential candidate filed an a Notice of Motion before the CCJ for several reliefs, including an interpretation of the words ‘more votes are cast’ in Article 177(2)(b) of the Constitution of Guyana.

The Court of Appeal in its decision ordered that the words are to be interpreted as meaning ‘more valid votes are cast’. The Court also ordered the decision be stayed for three days. The applicants, who were added as respondents before the Court of Appeal, claim that the decision was wrong for many reasons, including that the Court of Appeal did not have the jurisdiction to hear and determine the Notice of Motion.

On Monday, Justices Brassington Reynolds and Dawn Gregory ruled also that the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) has a responsibility to determine the final credible count based on quantitative and qualitative assessments of the observation report, in keeping with provisions of the original order and in the final paragraph of the amended order.

But in his minority ruling, Justice Rishi Persaud, ruled that the motion was “premature” and “wholly ill- conceived”: and that the applicant should have awaited to take the matter before the High Court, after GECOM would have announced the official election results.

The PPP/C has said that it won the elections based on the national recount of votes that ended on June 9. But the ruling coalition, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has said that the polls were filled with irregularities and anomalies and wants it annulled.

Later on Monday, the CCJ issued an order informing all parties to the dispute that maintains the status quo until further order and hold a case management conference with a view towards a full hearing of all the matters in dispute on Wednesday July 1st.

Justice Saunders said that the order remains in effect until the matter is concluded.

“We do not propose to drag out those proceedings by hearing preliminary points in a serial manner. We will hear preliminary points at the same time as we hear the points of substance,” Justice Saunders said, adding “we are all experienced lawyers and there is nothing to preclude us from hearing all of these matters and then if the preliminary points succeed then we would not have to delve into the other matters.

“But if the preliminary points fail then we would have saved time by already having before us all of the submissions on those matters that go beyond a preliminary point that may or may not fail. So there is no magic in doing this in a serial fashion so that we spend all of today or tomorrow dealing with a preliminary point and then you get over it and if by chance it doesn’t succeed you have to deal with another preliminary matter, we will be here until several weeks.

“We wish, as I said from the onset to receive all the submissions and we are going to consider them just as carefully as those substantive points and if there are points which would require us not to embark ultimately on substantive issues then it would be futile and then we would not embark upon the substantive issues,” he insisted.

GECOM and the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield did not make any appearance during the session on Wednesday and the CCJ outlined the measures to be undertaken by all parties in filing submissions and counter submissions no later than 9.00 am (local time) on Tuesday.

Justice Saunders said on Wednesday all the lawyers for all the parties including A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) and the United Republic Party (URP), who have been added into the matter, will be allowed to make oral submissions.

“It would appear to us that the principal issues are one, whether the Court of Appeal had jurisdiction to entertain the application that was made to it, secondly if the Court of Appeal lack such jurisdiction what is the consequence of this in relation to the proposed appeal to the CCJ, thirdly if the Court of Appeal had rightly assumed jurisdiction what is the consequence of that in relation to a proposed appeal to the CCJ and fourthly if the Court of Appeal rightly assumed jurisdiction and it exceeded its jurisdiction, what is the consequence of that in relation to the proposed appeal to the CCJ,” Justice Saunders said.

“It seems to us that those four issues captured all of the submissions, arguments, points that we have seen so far and if there is a contrary view then we will be pleased to hear it,” he added.

Private citizen, Eslyn David, mounted her challenge before the appellate court pursuant to Article 177 (4) of the Constitution, which states “the Court of Appeal shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine any question as to the validity of an election of a President in so far as the question depends upon the qualification of any person for election or the interpretation of this Constitution….”

By a majority ruling of 2-1, the Court of Appeal did not grant all the remedies that David had sought in her motion and also agreed to a stay of three days on the judgement.

CMC

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