High Court imposes restrictions on attorneys, media accessing hearing

Recount injunction

…cites COVID-19 as reason
…only selected media personnel granted access to court

Members of the local press corps, attorneys and stakeholders alike were left flabbergasted when they turned up at the High Court on Friday morning to witness the hearing of the injunction blocking the recount of ballots by the Guyana Elections Commission, only to be met by restrictions in relation to their access to the courtroom.

A group of media workers who were restricted from entering the High Court

The recount, which was agreed upon by President David Granger and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo, was challenged in court on Tuesday last by a candidate for Granger’s own party, Ulita Moore. Granger requested the Caribbean Community (Caricom) to supervise the recount process but that was halted after Moore, through her lawyer Mayo Robertson, secured an interim injunction blocking it.
Justice Franklyn Holder was the one who granted the injunction. The matter was called at the High Court before Justice Holder but only selected media personnel were granted access to the court’s compound while the others were left outside.

Selected access
The media houses that were granted access were NCN, Stabroek News, Prime News and the Guyana Chronicle.
According to a court marshall stationed at the High Court’s entrance, the restriction was because of COVID-19 which requires the practice of social distancing. He also informed media operatives that the court wanted to prevent overcrowding hence their access being restricted.
Nevertheless, the issue of COVID-19 seemed non-existent when three employees from the State-owned NCN were granted access.
There were complaints from media operatives since they were not informed of the restriction prior to turning up at the High Court from as early as 08:00h.
Reports are those who were allowed access to the building were prevented from entering the courtroom during the proceeding.
Additionally, attorneys were restricted to just two per party, according to PPP/C candidate and Attorney-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin. Datadin noted that the courtroom being used was large enough to accommodate the lawyers and journalists but explained that the decision ultimately rests with the Judge in charge.
“We were told that the reason for the restrictions is that because of the COVID[-19] virus or so…we don’t understand the restriction of attorneys. The Constitution guarantees you the right to counsel of choice. It guarantees that those attorney at law are allowed to appear in court. That’s something that’s being dealt with and is being raised with the Bar Association and we will find out what it is. It is regrettable that the media that is out here and not permitted to go inside or there is not somewhere it is being broadcasted as it has in the past…People are interested. This concerns the whole nation and hopefully, this position doesn’t maintain all the while. I noticed that the state media is upstairs and permitted in. That again only leads to more distrust in a system but the Judge has directed that is what going to happen. He is in control of his courtroom,” Datadin said.

Unnecessary measures
In a statement on Thursday, Attorney Anil Nandlall argued that these measures are unnecessary.
“I do not believe that these instructions have anything to do with the Coronavirus, but are intended to restrict our fundamental right to retain and instruct our lawyers and to adequately represent and prosecute our legal interests in the litigation, which fundamental freedoms are guaranteed by the Constitution of Guyana. It is wholly unnecessary, and it is utterly unconstitutional and unlawful.”