It increasingly seems as though the constitutional battles of the land live and die in the lower level courts. I am not aware of any court ruling on an important matter of national constitutional interest that has been appealed to the highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). It is a grand disservice to justice and in fixing a poor Guyana constitution when the government and opposition fail, in the nation’s interest, to appeal these cases to the highest courts to create precedents. A decision from a regular High Court judge or the Chief Justice (acting) does not have as much weight as a decision from the Court of Appeal or from the CCJ. Just look at the revelations that the PPP continues to spend the money cut by Parliament, arguing the Chief Justice’s decision allows them to do so, and we see the problem in its full glory. That decision is now murkier than ever because both sides claim they can legitimately use it to their advantage.
Why these decisions are never appealed to higher courts with a panel of legal minds instead of just a single judge befuddles me. Three or five or seven legal minds are far better than one. Legal battles of this nature are routinely appealed to the highest courts in the developed world to create precedents, which become templates for how society operates. In the absence of a dedicated constitutional court, these constitutional issues must be aggressively channelled to Guyana’s highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Failing to do so results in uncertainty.
Despite all of Mr Anil Nandlall’s verbiage in defence of the constitution, he has been wonderfully inept in accepting the losses of the government without appealing them. The opposition has to make a serious call here to push these cases to the highest courts. If the PPP disobeys these decisions, it opens itself to a public backlash and loss of political support. If nothing else, appeals to the CCJ offer the opposition an exceptional avenue to fix the decrepit Guyana constitution. No realistic-minded court in a modern democratic world would approve of provisions that place excessive, unrealistic and unbalanced power in the hands of one arm of the state while depriving and bullying the other. An institution like the CCJ could chip away at Burnham’s behemoth of a constitution. Realistically, none of the political parties want to rock the boat with a public completely fed up with their antics. So, using the courts to mount constitutional challenges and to reconfigure the constitution is a palatable option. Not only does it fix a problem by taking it away from politicians and their childish tantrums, it restores the importance of the judiciary as the sensible mediator in the war between the legislature and the executive. Full faith in the judiciary is a prime step to people’s belief in the power of the rule of law.