Chief Justice to rule on H2H legal challenges on August 14
…as Judiciary urged to “bell the cat”, be firm with Govt
After hearing arguments on Monday that the precedent exists for the court to set a timeframe for elections, acting Chief Justice Roxane George has set August 14 as the date for ruling on the legal challenge against House-to-House Registration and related cases.
During the hearing, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall cited the 2000 Esther Perreira election petition case. Nandlall argued strongly that this case sets a precedent for the court to set an election timeframe.
At the time, Justice Claudette Singh had ordered that elections must be held by March 31, 2001. Singh, who is now Chairperson of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), had also set out limitations on the Government’s conduct, including limitations on what legislation could be tabled.
Making reference to this, Nandlall urged the court to intervene and noted that the Judiciary, as custodian of the Constitution, has a duty to act. At this point, Justice George acknowledged that the Judiciary does have an inherent power to act.
The arguments that House-to-House Registration is mandatory did not find favour with the Chief Justice. This argument emanated from Attorney General Basil Williams. However, Nandlall pointed out and Justice George agreed, that the law says the Guyana Elections Commission may, and not shall, carry out the exercise. Confronted with his error, Williams professed that he “loves to stand in front of [Justice George] and learn.”
The Chief Justice set August 14 as the date for her rulings on the challenge to House-to-House Registration, a case brought by Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram, as well as Attorney General Basil Williams’ petition to strike out Ram’s case.
Outside the court, Nandlall expressed hope that the court would be more firm with the Government this time around than on previous occasions, such as when Justice George heard the original case in January. He maintained that while President David Granger has to set an election date, all the Opposition wanted was for the Chief Justice to set a timeframe within which the President must set a date for elections.
“The No-Confidence Motion was passed on December 21, 2018. The Constitution is clear. The Government has refused to comply with the Constitution. They came to the court. The court ruled that the motion was valid and ordered that sections of the Constitution be complied with. They did not comply with it. We asked the court then to fix dates for elections. The court refused. We then went to the court of appeal and the court reversed that.”
“We then went to the CCJ. The CCJ said the Constitution must be obeyed and elections be fixed within the timeframe. But the Executive is simply disobeying. That is what I’m telling the Judge. For how long will we not bell the cat? For how long will we engage in these diplomatic exchanges and we’re not speaking about the elephant in the room. And I urge the court not to act with restraint. We are here because the court acted with restraint in January,” Nandlall added.
Meanwhile, AG Williams reiterated outside the court that these matters were dealt with before and that orders not granted by the Caribbean Court of Justice cannot be granted by the High Court.
GECOM is currently undertaking House-to-House Registration, which was last conducted in 2008 and will see enumerators going in teams of two to three, from door to door in various communities across Guyana. The enumerators will present forms to registrants to fill up, as well as take fingerprints and pictures.
It is understood that these enumerators work from 15:30h to 18:30h during the week and from 9:00h to 16:00h on weekends and holidays. The exercise is intended to produce a new National Register of Registrants Database and Official List of Electors.
This means that everyone, regardless of whether they were registered before or not, must register anew at their place of residence between July 20 and October of this year. However, a No-Confidence Motion was passed against the Government since December 21, 2018, necessitating elections in three months.
In addition, the requirement for proof of residency has produced alarm for overseas-based Guyanese to the point where a court case was filed earlier this year by an overseas-based Guyanese against House-to-House Registration on the basis that it would disenfranchise her. That case was later withdrawn out of the belief that GECOM would adhere to the recent Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) rulings which reiterated the need for elections in three months.
It is because of this that Ram brought his case against GECOM. Ram is seeking an order compelling the Commission to stop their House-to-House exercise. Previously, Justice George had denied Ram’s application for an interim conservatory order to block GECOM from continuing its House-to-House exercise that began on July 20.
Subsequently, GECOM Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield through Trinidadian lawyer Stanley Marcus had sought the Chief Justice’s recusal on the grounds of a statement she caused her office to send out which they contended was biased.