High Court hearing on challenge to no-confidence vote set for January 15

-AG preparing to file action on 34 as majority

The court action challenging the passage of the December 21 no-confidence motion by 33 votes rather than 34 will be filed sometime this week, according to Attorney General Basil Williams who yesterday disclosed that January 15 has been fixed to hear the case concerning the validity of former MP Charrandass Persaud’s vote given his Canadian citizenship.

Williams had said last Thursday that the government’s case will be two-fold – Persaud’s alleged disqualification from voting given his Canadian citizenship and that 34 rather than 33 votes constitute the majority required for the no-confidence motion to pass.

The citizenship aspect of the case was filed last Friday by private citizen Compton Reid who is represented by a team of lawyers headed by Senior Counsel Rex McKay.

In his application, Reid argues that given Persaud’s citizenship the no-confidence motion against the APNU+AFC government could not be regarded as having been passed.

On December 21st, a ‘yes’ vote from Persaud to an Opposition PPP/C sponsored no-confidence motion against the government tipped the scales 33-32 in favour of the motion. Consequently, Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Barton Scotland ruled that the motion had been carried. The government subsequently sent the Speaker a legal brief outlining six consequences of the vote and asked him to consider them and reverse his ruling.

Scotland, at a sitting of the National Assembly last Thursday, said he would not do so and urged that the court be approached to seek redress.

When contacted yesterday, Williams told the Sunday Stabroek that he and his team were at his Chambers looking at the various options regarding the 34 as majority argument. He said that this aspect of the case will be filed “soon.”

He informed that he and his staff have been working non-stop on the case from the time the vote was declared passed and various arguments began circulating in the public.

Pressed on a specific day as to when the matter will be filed, Williams said that it could be any day even tomorrow, but at this point, he would not want “to preempt before full discussion.”

According to him, that action could be filed by the Alliance for Change (AFC) or any other party. “So we are looking to see what’s happening … (with) the different options we have. So I don’t wanna disclose nothing really right now,” he said.

Reminding that there is already a related matter before the court, he said “We always deliver. I have given y’all all the information from day one.” He added that the Speaker has endorsed what he has said and has indicated that the court is the right place for constitutional determination.

Williams stressed that without a doubt, an action on the question of the majority required, will be filed. “Obviously we are gonna file in relation to that. Whether I file as Attorney General or a citizen files or the AFC files or the PNC files, we’ll see,” he said.

He insisted that it doesn’t matter who files the case because the Attorney General will always be a party in the case. He drew reference to the fact that he is a respondent in the matter that was filed on Friday. The other respondents in the case are Scotland and Persaud.

Outlining the work done by his Chambers thus far, he said that his staff provided the brief to the Speaker and was also involved in McKay’s preparation of the dual citizenship aspect of the case.

At a press conference on December 31, Williams contended that he knew all along that 34 votes were required to pass the motion but chose to remain silent so that no one else on the government side would vote for it.

“This thing is tactical. For me it was tactical because I had, and we had information that something like that would happen with more than one person (on the government benches),” he had said.

Williams told the media that there are many examples from around the world which cements the government’s contention that 34 and not 33 votes are needed for the motion to pass.

The AG told the media that it was the Government’s position that there was a “miscalculation” of the majority of all elected members as required under Article 106(6) of the Constitution for the Government to be defeated on a vote of no-confidence. 

To this end, he said that the Legal Memorandum was sent to Scotland setting out the legal issues that “we wish for him to consider”. Included was the majority argument.

 “In order for the Government to be defeated on a vote of confidence, 34 or more votes of all the elected members in favour of the motion were required instead of 33. This assertion is grounded in established Parliamentary precedent and practice and case law in the Commonwealth,” he said before adding that while the National Assembly comprises 65 members, mathematically, half of all the elected members of the current National Assembly would result in a fraction of 32.5.

This argument was first raised publicly by attorney Nigel Hughes.

Meanwhile in his action, which essentially seeks a declaration that Persaud could not have been qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly in the first place since he has pledged allegiance to Canada, Reid is also asking for an order setting aside the order of the Speaker that the no-confidence motion was passed. He is also asking for an order staying the enforcement of the December 21 no-confidence motion.

Additionally, he is asking the court for a conservatory order, preserving the status quo ante that the government remains in office until the hearing and determination of his application before the court.

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