Gov’t yet to decide on legal representation in third term case – Williams

Government has not yet decided whether external legal luminaries will be retained for the third term appeal case which will soon come up before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) but according to Attorney General Basil Williams SC the services of two Barbadian Queen’s Counsel may be solicited.

“As you know I have two Barbadian Queen’s Counsel (QCs) and it is quite possible that they could in fact …be advisory or they could also appear in the case”, he said  yesterday in response to a question from Stabroek News. Williams spoke to the media shortly after former Magistrate and human rights advocate Christopher Arif Bulkan was sworn in as a temporary appellate judge during a ceremony at State House.

The two QCs being referred to are Ralph Thorne and Hal Gollop, who were recently retained by the government to assist in fighting the challenge to Presi-dent David Granger’s unilateral appointment of retired judge James Patterson as Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom) Chairman. The duo appeared at the High Court when the matter was called on January 5.

Williams stressed that no final decision has been made as to whether the duo will appear at the CCJ for government. “No (but), you have a lot of time”, he said.

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

Last February, former acting Chancel-lor 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 Consti-tution 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.

Justice Singh, in delivering the ruling, had expressed 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 Constitution 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.

The CCJ has set February 6 for its case management conference, at which dates are likely to be set to hear the matter.

The case will be closely followed as the outcome will determine whether Jagdeo has the option of pursuing a third term in office. The former president 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.

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