Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang yesterday stayed the proceedings in government’s challenge to last year’s budget cuts until the determination of an appeal filed by lawyers for Opposition Leader David Granger, who was recently struck out as a defendant in the case.
On June 19, Justice Chang struck out Granger and Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh as defendants in the case, which was brought by Attorney General Anil Nandlall, on the ground that they are parliamentarians and can’t be sued.
Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman remains the sole respondent in the matter.
When the case was called yesterday all parties were present. “I will not proceed with the final determination of this matter until that matter [the appeal] has been determined,” Chang said during the proceedings, which lasted less than fifteen minutes.
Following the proceedings, Nandlall told reporters that unfortunately the case has been adjourned “one again.”
Asked for his views on the filing of the appeal, he said “I believe that it is a very strange legal precedent, in the sense that I have never heard that an appeal being filed against an order of a judge which excludes a defendant from a case.”
He said that when a defendant is removed from a case, that defendant is normally not aggrieved because he is not sued anymore. In this case, he said, “we have the unprecedented position of a defendant who has been excluded from a case. Essentially that defendant had already won and he is [now] appealing the win.” Nandlall hoped that the appeal will be determined quickly, paving the way for the case before Justice Chang to be completed. While stressing that the budget case is very important, he said that there are many agencies that are dependent on the determination of the\case for their funding out of the 2013 budget as well.
Asked about the delay the appeal is causing, he said that from the beginning he had been working assiduously in trying to get an early conclusion but “all my efforts are being frustrated by all kinds of legal maneuvering that is believed are deliberate and designed to dilate, delay and detain these proceedings.”
The delays, he opined, have no merit.
Nandlall said that hopefully the Full Court’s determination of the appeal will come as early as is reasonably possible. He said that during the proceedings he indicated to the judge that he longer wished to address him because he already has a record – over 20 pages of legal submissions – and the need to address him all over again “I believe is unnecessary”.
Attorney Basil Williams, who filed the appeal, has maintained that Granger and by extension the main opposition APNU believes that the Chief Justice’s decision was “arbitrary and unreasonable.”
Last year April, 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 however, said that 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.