Acting Chancellor Carl Singh last Friday proceeded with the hearing of the appeal of the ruling made by now retired Chief Justice Ian Chang that the presidential term-limit is unconstitutional and has set February 15 for decision after giving specific time periods for each party involved to make written submissions.
Justice Singh decided to begin the case despite a request from Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams SC for it to be postponed until February. Williams’s main reason was that with the absence of a Solicitor General (SG), there was no one to represent him in court. He has also accused Justice Singh of being in a “hurry” to hear the case.
The court action had been brought by Cedrick Richardson, a private citizen, months before the 2015 elections. He challenged the restriction created by amendments to Article 90 of the Constitution that were enacted in 2001 after the bipartisan Constitution reform process. The Attorney General and then Speaker Raphael Trotman were named as the defendants in the court action.
The amendments to Article 9 of the Constitution that had seen the insertion of two clauses to allow for re-election only once, while Chang’s ruling would allow former two-term president Bharrat Jagdeo to seek re-election. Jagdeo is the current Opposition Leader.
Article 90 of the Constitution now carries clause (2), which states, “A person elected as president after the year 2000 is eligible for re-election only once,” and clause (3), which states, “A person who acceded to the presidency after the year 2000 and served therein on a single occasion for not less than such period as may be determined by the National Assembly is eligible for election as president only once.”
On July 9, 2015, then acting Chief Justice Chang ruled that the presidential term-limit was unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum. Weeks later Solicitor General Sita Ramlal on behalf of the AG and Attorney Roysdale Force on behalf of Trotman appealed. It was only recently that Friday’s date was chosen for the matter to be heard for the first time – some 17 months after the appeals were filed.
A source close to the case told Sunday Stabroek yesterday that when it began, Williams was absent and that an attorney from his Chambers was there to represent him.
The source said that Justice Singh indicated early in the hearing that the court will be proceeding with the case notwithstanding what Williams had said in the media. One day after this newspaper had carried an article saying that the case would begin, Williams told the Guyana Chronicle that Justice Singh was opening the matter days before he was scheduled to retire.
He told that newspaper that Ramlal has retired and therefore he and his team needed time to prepare for and take over the case.
Sunday Stabroek was told that at last Friday’s hearing, Justice Singh did acknowledge that he had received a letter from Williams. According to the source, he said too that though the case may have political implications, that was not a consideration for the court and that the court was proceeding with the matter.
Based on what this newspaper was told, Justice Singh gave the appellants seven days to reply, Richardson seven days to respond and the appellants a further three days to reply to what had been filed. He then set February 15 as the date for decision.
Justice Singh is due to retire on February 23.
When this newspaper asked Williams about the matter last Wednesday, he expressed concerns that Justice Singh appeared to be in a hurry. He was responding to questions, moments after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of a law school here.
Williams confirmed that he had written to the acting Chancellor asking that the date be changed. “As you know there are many appeals that we have in the Court of Appeal and I was really surprised to see that this appeal has come up so quickly,” he said before adding that the appeal hearing comes at a time when his Chambers is in search of a Solicitor General.
He said the position was advertised in the newspapers and the search for such a person was ongoing. “We really don’t know what the hurry is. I think there is a lot of time and I think we need to have some time to get other persons to take over the case because the SG has retired,” he said. Asked how much time he would need to find persons to take over the case, he responded, “Well… I asked for some time in February. I am looking to mid-February.”
Jagdeo had repeatedly distanced himself from the case. His recent election as General Secretary of the opposition People’s Progressive Party is seen as opening the way for him to run again for the presidency. The next national elections are due in 2020.
Ramlal and Forde in their appeals both contended that Justice Chang erred in law.