Chief Magistrate dismisses charges against GECOM Chair, Govt Commissioners without hearing case
Conspiracy to breach Constitution charges
…lawyer says Magistrate’s actions “unheard of”
Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan on Friday morning dismissed private criminal charges filed against Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Justice (retd) James Patterson, and the three Government Commissioners: Vincent Alexander, Desmond Trotman and Charles Corbin, at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts.
Magistrate McLennan dismissed the charges even without hearing any submissions from the lawyers on the matter.
The charges filed against the four were for conspiracy to breach the Constitution of Guyana by not following Article 106, which stipulates that elections are to be held within three months of the passage of a no-confidence motion.
The defendants were represented by Attorney-at-law Rex McKay, Neil Boston and Robert Corbin.
The chief magistrate, in her ruling, said the charge has no purpose and appears to be frivolous. Further, she told the court that to bring such a charge against the defendants is an abuse of the court.
The charges were brought by Marcel Gaskin, the brother of Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin. He was represented by Attorneys-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin and Ganesh Hira.
However, Attorney Datatin has said he would be moving to the High Court on Monday to refile the challenge. He added that the move by the chief magistrate to dismiss a case of national importance and with grave implications without a proper hearing is unheard of.
“You can’t breach a Constitution; but if people get together and say that is what they are doing, then it is a criminal offence at common law, and under section 21 it carries (a penalty) of one year imprisonment; but of course that’s not mandatory. But when the no-confidence motion was passed by the National Assembly on the 21 of December, it meant 90 days later they should have had an election. Everyone in Guyana is aware that that is not happening, the people who are charged with bringing an election is the Elections Commission and they are not taking any steps to do what they should be doing,” Datadin said.
According to Datadin, his client was not partial in filing the charges against the four defendants, but did so because the Chairman and Commissioners are those who voted to not conduct elections as is constitutionally mandated.
As the matter was being heard in the Magistrates’ Courts, several protestors stood outside of the court calling for the coalition Government to call elections. According to one protestor, she has lost faith in the APNU/AFC coalition Government, and is calling for them to do as is mandated.
Another protestor, Jermaine Gentle, said that as a citizen of Guyana, he is calling on the leaders of the country to respect the Constitution.
With the Government’s defeat, the next steps are spelt out in the Constitution of Guyana. Clause 7 of Article 106 of the Constitution of Guyana states that, “Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly determine, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.”
President David Granger and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had initially committed to following the provisions outlined in the Constitution, facilitating early elections and engaging in dialogue with the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo; but they have since changed their position.
Since the passage of the motion by a vote of 33-32 on December 21, 2018, however, persons aligned with the coalition have sought to question the motion’s validity, even as the vote has already been certified.
The original proponent of the 34-vote argument is Attorney Nigel Hughes, a former AFC Chairman and the husband of sitting Minister Cathy Hughes, who told State media that half of 65 is 32.5, but when rounded to the nearest whole number, this would be 33 as there is no half member.
Following this reasoning becoming a challenge in the High Court, acting Chief Justice Roxane George ruled that 33 is the majority.
The Government has since challenged the Chief Justice’s ruling in the Court of Appeal.
Five days remain until the constitutional deadline for holding elections expires.