Third term appeal to come up at CCJ on Feb 6 for case management

From the schedule of sittings posted on its website, on February 6, 2018, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will hold its case management conference at which dates are likely to be set to hear Guyana’s appeal on the constitutionality of presidential limits exceeding two terms.

Hearing is scheduled to begin at 10am in Court   Room 1 of the Trinidad-based court and will be done via audio-visual recording.

Dates for the hearing of the appeal will be set and presented in the form of a printed court order, after the court would have consulted with attorneys on both sides, in a bid to ascertain their availability. 

Filed by Attorney General Basil Williams SC and former Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman, the appeal is against a majority judgment by the Guyana Court of Appeal, upholding the 2015 ruling by former acting Chief Justice Ian Chang that the two-term presidential limit is unconstitutional.

Last February, former acting Chancellor Carl Singh, and now retired Justice B S Roy dismissed the state’s appeal to Justice Chang’s ruling. Dissenting, was then acting Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards.

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 Constitu-tion that were enacted in 2001 after the bipartisan Constitution reform process.

On July 9, 2015, Justice Chang ruled that the presidential term-limit was unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum. The amendments to Article 90 of the Constitution had seen the insertion of two clauses to allow for re-election only once.

Justice Chang’s ruling had paved the way for two-term president Bharrat Jagdeo to seek re-election if he so desired.

Jagdeo had repeatedly distanced himself from the case and had publicly said that he had no intention of running for office again. However, he is now the Opposition Leader and has been elected as General Secretary of the PPP/C. It is that party’s General Secretary who has traditionally been its presidential nominee.

Justice Singh, in delivering the ruling, had express-ed the view that the decision of the term limits rests with the people via a referendum and not the National Assembly.

Article 90 of the Consti-tution states at Clause 2(a) that a person elected as president after the year 2000 “is eligible for re-election only once” and at Clause (3) that 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.”

Among other things, Justice Singh had said that changes to the features of the article could only be done via referendum; that is “by the people themselves”.

He said that when the Act No 17 of 2000 “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, that “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.

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