High Court hears “majority” and “dual citizen” challenges today
As Guyanese continue to anticipate the date for early elections with last December’s passage of the no-confidence resolution that effectively toppled the David Granger-led coalition administration, much attention will be paid to acting Chief Justice Roxane George, SC, who will preside over several legal challenges at the High Court this afternoon.
The first case to be heard at 13:30h today is the one filed by private citizen Compton Reid, who is challenging the validity of the vote of former Member of Parliament (MP) Charrandas Persaud, stating that he had falsely declared that he was a Guyanese citizen.
Opposition Leader Jagdeo, through Attorney Anil Nandlall, had made application in the High Court to become a party to the proceedings. He has said that the case put forward by Reid is aimed at nullifying the no-confidence motion and preventing the law from taking its course through the provisions outlined in the Constitution.
Further, he stated that it pointed to political issues that could have far-reaching implications for national democracy, peace, order and good governance in Guyana. As such, he believes that filing a legal action will help to diminish the possibility of this ever occurring.
33 majority challenge
The other case to be heard is that which Government, through Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams, has filed for the court to put on hold the enforcement of the no-confidence resolution, which was passed on December 21, 2018. Williams, who is seeking relief under the Constitution, wants the court to rule on whether the Speaker’s decision on the December 21, 2018 motion was indeed carried by a majority of all elected members, and whether or not the 33-to-32 breakdown means it was validly passed.
In his petition which was filed separately from the dual citizenship challenge, Williams argued that the current total elected members of the National Assembly is 65, and the majority of members legally prescribed by Article 106 (6) of the Constitution is tantamount to an absolute majority that legally requires a vote of 34 or more. This contention has been Government’s position ever since Attorney Nigel Hughes, husband of Government Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes, raised the argument.
The Government believes there was not a majority passage of the no-confidence motion, but the Opposition disagrees and believes that the Government is attempting to buy time in office.
Under the Constitution, on the passage of a no-confidence motion, elections must be called within three months, or at a time agreed to by two-thirds of the National Assembly.
In his request for a conservatory order, Williams said it was necessary to preserve the status quo as Article 106 (7) of the Constitution requires that the President and all Ministers of the Government remain in office and hold elections within three months.
However, Williams said the period for the hearing and determination of the matter may expire before that time. As such, he believes a stay of the enforcement of the resolution is necessary in order to avoid the process being rendered insignificant.
“…and in all the circumstances, the applicant is satisfied that there exists an arguable case on the questions in controversy with a realistic prospect of success on the part of the Government,” the document added, noting that the Speaker’s ruling begs for the court’s intervention.
Attorney and Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram had also appealed to join these proceedings to have the High Court validate the no-confidence resolution and have Government comply with Constitutional provisions to demit office and call elections no later than March of this year. Though attorney Kamal Ramkarran, Ram’s grounds of appeal, also seeking relief under the Constitution, stated that Government was defeated with 33 votes against 32; that Government should resign if defeated on a confidence vote; that 18 days had passed, and Government gave no indication to resign nor has fixed a date for national and regional elections.
Ram has also argued that Cabinet’s failure to resign with all convenient speed and to fix an elections date could lead to uncertainty and constitutional crisis if neither of those occur in keeping with the Constitution by March 21.
As part of the evidence to support his case, Ram provided a certified copy of the no-confidence as provided by Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs.
On December 21, 2018, the Opposition’s no confidence motion against Government was passed after AFC parliamentarian Charrandas Persaud took a conscience decision and voted in favour of the motion. Following the passage, both the President and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had given assurances that the administration would uphold the Constitution.
Despite this commitment, Government went ahead and unsuccessfully sought to have the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, reverse his decision on the passage of the resolution.
The Speaker acknowledged that while he does have the authority to revisit and reverse rulings in the National Assembly, he must always act in conformity with the constitution.
As such, Dr Scotland informed the chambers that their questions must first be settled outside of Parliament, and that any court ruling would guide future actions of the House.
On Wednesday last, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and President David Granger met in what was described as a “fruitful engagement”, during which the two sides entered into agreements on several areas, including jointly approaching the courts to expedite the legal proceedings filed in reference to the No-Confidence resolution.
This is after the Head of State insisted that his administration would continue to pursue the legal proceedings which challenge the validity majority of the 33 votes that were used to pass the motion instead of an “absolute majority” of 34.
Speaking at a media briefing following the meeting which lasted nearly 90 minutes, Jagdeo told reporters the Opposition sought clarity on whether Government would have accepted the Constitutional provisions outlined in Articles 106 (6) and (7) of the constitution.
“The president said “No”, they will continue to pursue the legal route as a remedy to this situation,” the Opposition Leader revealed, while explaining that “This legal remedy could take forever, it could take maybe a year; and what happens in the meantime? We would have defeated, first of all, the purpose of the Constitution – the intent of [Article] 106 (6) and (7) – and what if, at the end of the year, the court rules in our favour, or (after) two years, the court says, ‘yes, it was validly upheld’? So we made it clear that this legal situation, we don’t support it, but that’s a reality because the Government will pursue it.”
Against this backdrop, Jagdeo disclosed that he suggested during the meeting that the court be approached to expedite these matters so that there would be no breach of the constitution, which stipulates that elections must be held within three months of the passage of a motion of no-confidence.
He added that Guyana’s case is not just an ordinary matter. “This is a question of the Constitution, and also the timeline imposed by the Constitution is ticking, and so the need for that urgency we’re pushing for must dawn on the court themselves… and now they’re getting the Government and the Opposition saying, ‘we want you to hear it continuously, expeditiously get the hearing so that we can move it and get that out of the way,” he posited.