CCJ may begin hearing presidential term limit case in December

All the records for the appeal in the presidential term limit case have been delivered to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on time and it is expected that the proceedings will commence in the matter in December or early January.

Stabroek News was reliably informed that the records for the appeal were “settled” almost three weeks ago, thereby making way for a case management conference, where the issues to be ventilated during the proceedings will be identified and dates for hearings will be set.

Over the last few weeks, this newspaper was repeatedly told by an attorney involved in the case that the judicial process, inclusive of the timeline, was being followed.

Based on the information provided to this newspaper, the Court of Appeal is responsible for sending all the records of appeal to the CCJ. The lawyers for both sides also have to send affidavits to the court within a specified 90-day period, beginning from the date the Court of Appeal grants an application for the ruling to be challenged in the CCJ.

The original court action was 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 amendments had seen the insertion of two clauses to allow for re-election only once.

On July 9, 2015, now retired Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang ruled that the presidential term-limit was unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum.

The ruling provides an opening for former president Bharrat Jagdeo to make a bid for a third term in office. From the outset, Jagdeo had distanced himself from the matter and had repeatedly said that he is not interested in being president again.

On February 22, the now retired Chancellor (ag) Carl Singh and Justice B S Roy dismissed the appeals filed by Attorney General Basil Williams SC and Attorney Roysdale Forde on behalf of former Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman. Then acting Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, who also heard the case from the Appeal Court, dissented.

In the Appeal Court ruling, Justice Singh had argued that a decision on the term limits rested with the people via a referendum and not the National Assembly. Justice Singh had stressed that people should choose whom they “please to govern them” and noted that this is essential to all other rights.

Act No 17 of 2000 “waters down” the opportunity of the people of Guyana to elect the president of their choice though this is present in Articles 1 and 9, he said.

Justice Singh said changes to the features of these articles could only be done “by the people themselves” by way of a referendum. He said that when the amendments “altered” the provisions of Article 90, resulting in an increase in the number and categories of disqualified persons who the political parties might have considered as their candidate, it “effectively suppressed the right of the people to freely choose those persons whom they feel should represent them.” He said that this right of the people to choose is now controlled by the National Assembly.

Justice Cummings-Edwards, in her dissenting opinion, expressed the view that Act No 17 “did not require approval by referendum.” She said that the amendment to Article 90 was not unconstitutional as Justice Chang had ruled. “The amendment was validly done,” she said, while adding that Article 90 did not either directly or indirectly alter, dilute, affect or amend Article 1 and Article 9.

Moreover, she posited that it was Parliament that set the presidential term-limit and later explained that it was the electorate who gave the National Assembly the power to amend the Constitution.

Richardson’s lawyer, Shawn Allicock, in an invited comment had expressed satisfaction with the court’s decision. He said the matter was really about the democratic rights of citizens of Guyana. He had made mention of a petition filed where the democratic right to be belaboured with a voter’s ID card in order to vote was challenged. He expressed confidence that the CCJ will uphold Justice Chang’s decision and put the matter to rest once and for all.

Both the AG and Forde subsequently applied for leave to appeal to the CCJ

On July 6, Justice Cummings-Edwards, who was elevated to acting Chancellor, Appellate Judge Dawn Gregory and High Court Judge Rishi Persaud, heard the applications and subsequently granted them.

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