The Full Court yesterday ruled that it has no jurisdiction to deal with the decision of Chief Justice (Ag) Ian Chang to strike out Opposition Leader David Granger as a defendant in the budget cuts case.
However, Granger’s legal team plans to appeal and if need be is prepared to move to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). On June 19 last year, Justice Chang struck out Granger and Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh as defendants in the case, on the ground that they are parliamentarians and can’t be sued.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall, who initiated the suit to challenge cuts made to the national budget by the one-seat opposition majority, yesterday confirmed that the Full Court comprising Justice James Bovell-Drakes and Justice Rishi Persaud upheld his submission that the Full Court of the High Court had no jurisdiction to deal with an order or a decision of the High Court judge that is “final.”
Speaking after the swearing in of retired judge Winston Moore as Ombudsman, Nandlall explained that while Justice Chang is yet to deliver a final ruling in the case, he pronounced “finally” on the issue of Granger and Singh’s participation as defendants in the case. Nandlall said because it was a final ruling, any appeal must be filed in the Court of Appeal, in accordance with the High Court rules and the court of Appeal Act. “That was the submission which I made initially that was eventually upheld by the judges this morning,” he said.
Meanwhile, Granger, who was also at the swearing in ceremony, told reporters in an invited comment that main opposition APNU will file an appeal as it feels its position is correct. “We feel that the parliament has the authority to cut the budget and we will file an appeal…,” he told reporters.
He said if that does not work, then APNU is prepared to take the case to the CCJ since this is “an important constitutional issue.” Granger, who said he was disappointed by the ruling, noted that the deliberations of the National Assembly, as long as they are within the constitution, cannot be interfered with by the court.
In April 2012, the opposition effected $20 billion in cuts from the government’s proposed budget, citing a lack of transparency and accountability in the explanations for the allocations. Although President Donald Ramotar later assented to the budget passed by the National Assembly, Nandlall subsequently moved to the courts to reverse the cuts.
Justice Chang, in a preliminary ruling, said while the National Assembly did not have the power to cut the budget, the court could not restore the funding sought by government, except for allocations to the Ethnic Relations Commission which is a constitutional agency and entitled to draw directly from the Consolidated Fund. Similar cuts have since been made to the 2013 budget.
As a result of the challenge to Justice Chang’s decision on excluding Granger and Singh as defendants, the case remains stalled. If an appeal is filed by Granger’s lawyers then there would be a further delay. The appeals in the higher court take priority and have to be completed before Justice Chang can continue.
Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman remains the sole respondent in this budget cuts case.