Parties in the Attorney General’s appeal of the High Court ruling preventing persons’ names from being removed from the Register of Registrants have been given until December 9, 2019, to return to the Appeal Court make their case.
The hearing began before Chancellor of the Judiciary, Yonnette Cummings-Edwards and fellow Justices Rishi Persaud and Dawn Gregory, on Monday. Appearing for the bar association amicus curiae was its President, Teni Housty, while Attorney General Basil Williams and Solicitor General Nigel Hawke were also present.
Initially absent, however, were representatives for Attorney-at-Law Christopher Ram, the first named respondent. In addition, representation for Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield was also absent, although Lowenfield himself was in the courtroom. Eventually, however, the respective parties did arrive.
These absences led Justice Cummings-Edwards to enquire when the summons were delivered to the respondents. It was pointed out by Hawke that the parties received their notifications on September 23, 2019.
Justice Cummings-Edwards subsequently informed them that the parties will have to report to the Court of Appeal registrar within six weeks of Tuesday. The hearing will continue on December 9, 2019.
Following the proceedings, lawyer for Christopher Ram, Kamal Ramkarran expressed confidence that his client would be vindicated. At the same time, he noted with concern what the AG is actually trying to achieve with his appeal.
According to Ramkarran, if the State is actually successful, it could result in a logistical nightmare that could set back the work of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and delay the holding of elections.
“The Chief Justice ruled that it was unconstitutional to take people off the list if they were registered. And what the AG is trying to do is get a stay of execution of that ruling. The law is that it’s unconstitutional to remove people. And he’s trying to get the court of appeal to say you can still take them off on a temporary basis, until his appeal is heard.”
“If the court agrees with the AG, then it is going to delay elections because the whole list will have to be looked at again. You would have to determine who was not there and remove them. It’s a logistical nightmare!” Ramkarran said.
One of the major contestations in the appeal is the residency requirement for being registered. Acting Chief Justice Roxane George had ruled that persons, once registered, could not be removed without just cause.
In the AG’s appeal, however, the Chief Justice is accused of being misconceived in law. In fact, there are 16 points in the appeal in which the AG claims the CJ misinterpreted the law. According to Ramkarran, such arguments go against the fundamental rights of Guyanese to vote.
“Once you are a citizen of Guyana, you have a fundamental right to vote in the elections… suppose someone is mining in the interior or not at home when the people came to register? You just remove them off the list?”
With elections set to take place on March 2, 2020, GECOM has been working towards producing the Official List of Electors necessary to conduct elections. The entity included thousands of names from the controversial House-to-House Registration exercise.
However, there are many who did not participate for varying reasons, including being out of the jurisdiction and out of a belief that the exercise was illegal as it sought to delay elections. Claims and Objections (C&O) is presently ongoing, in order to produce the OLE.
Last week, Opposition-nominated Commissioner Sase Gunraj told reporters after a meeting that Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield updated them that more than 2100 transactions had been recorded at the time during the C&O exercise.
He further related that they are still trying to get more details on other aspects such as the H2H data, as well as the overseas fingerprint cross-matching, before any decisions are taken. According to the Opposition-nominated Commissioner, the encoding (entering data into GECOM’s database) of the H2H data is scheduled to finish by Tuesday.
The preceding week, Government-nominated Commissioner Charles Corbin had told reporters that the encoded data will be available for scrutiny before the C&O exercise concludes in November.