Ruling on matter will violate Constitution – lawyer tells Appeal Court

Order against removal of NRR names 
…says “elections train” has already departed
…but Govt hoping for more lifeline: AG tells court to go ahead with decision

Senior Counsel (SC) Ralph Ramkarran is contending that the electoral process was triggered last month when President David Granger issued the election proclamation and further argues that once the “elections train” has left the station, then any issue relating to this process should be dealt with via an election petition.
Ramkarran was at the time rebutting final submissions made by Attorney General Basil Williams in the appeal case filed by the State to challenge the August 2019 decision by acting Chief Justice Roxane George, who blocked the removal of persons from the National Register of Registrants (NRR) Database. The High Court case was filed by chartered accountant Christopher Ram last year after the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) sought to conduct a House-to-House Registration exercise with the aim of creating a new database.
The AG argued in court that this matter has no relations to the upcoming March 2 General and Regional Elections since the Notice of Appeal was filed in September 2019 and the election proclamation was issued by the President three months later in December.
“The matter is not an elections matter in any shape or form but it is strictly speaking to a constitutional issue as to and whether residency is a fundamental pre-requisite of voting in Guyana,” Williams submitted.
He went on to point out that the case has public interest as it deals with rights of electors to vote.
“…This matter is a serious matter of national public interest. It rose in the past, it arises now and it will arise in the future. And so the court will be properly in order to accept the jurisdiction,” the AG contended.
However, Ramkarran reiterated submissions for the Appellate Court to decline jurisdiction. He argued that there is no way to escape the fact that this is not an elections matter and that all election-related issues have to be dealt with via an elections petition.
According to Ramkarran, that electoral process was ignited when the President issued the election proclamation.
“Whether it’s proclamation day or nomination day, we’re beyond those now… Once the elections train leaves the station, every issue has to be determined by way of elections petition,” he posited.
The Senior Counsel went on to tell the court should it proceed to give a decision while on the “election train”, then it will be ruling on an elections matter that ought to have been properly litigated by way of an elections petition, after the conduct of those elections and within the stipulated days as outlined in the Constitution.
“If you do litigate it now, Your Honour is violating two principles – one, it is not an elections petition; and two, it’s a matter that ought to be determined after the elections… The simple answer is to decline jurisdiction… Your Honour has no option, in my respectful view, other than declining jurisdiction and giving the opportunity to the appellant to start the matter after elections by way of elections petition…,” Ramkarran insisted.
Alternatively, the SC suggested that the Appellate Court consider putting the matter down until the upcoming elections are over, and then go ahead and treat it as a petition and rule on it.
However, acting Chancellor, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, who is leading the presiding appellate panel which includes Justices Rishi Persaud and Dawn Gregory, indicated that they would require leave from the High Court to hear an elections petition.
“For a matter to commence as an elections petition, we have to have leave [from the court] below… [We can’t give leave because] we’re not the court of original jurisdiction,” the Judge stated.

Flexibility exists
But Ramkarran, a former Speaker of the National Assembly, pointed out that the flexibility exists for courts to make things possible within the framework of legality.
“Your Honour, these things are all possible. They are possible within the rules I believe.”
Justice Cummings-Edwards told the parties at Wednesday’s session for final submissions that the court will take their arguments into considering in determining how it proceeds. Parties will be informed of the date when the appellate panel is ready to hand down its decision.
In her August ruling, Chief Justice George ruled that while the H2H Registration is not unconstitutional, it is unconstitutional for qualified persons to be removed from the list – which is what the exercised aim at doing by creating a new database of registrants.
Pointing out that the “right to vote and the right to be registered to vote are sacrosanct”, the High Court Judge said, “residence requirements from citizens is no longer a qualification for registration”.
As such, she noted that it is unconstitutional for qualified persons to be removed from the list if they are not in the jurisdiction or not at their residence during the registration exercise. She further stated that only deceased persons and those otherwise disqualified under Article 159 (2) (3) or (4) are to be removed.