Guyanese citizens are expected to learn the fate of a last ditched appeal to resolve its outstanding presidential election result, next Wednesday.
Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) President Adrian Saunders and six of his colleagues reserved their decision on the appeal after completing hearing lengthy submissions via video conferencing, yesterday afternoon.
In adjourning the court’s judgement, Saunders noted that he and his colleagues were aware of the need to expeditiously determine the case, which was brought by that country’s Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), last week.
The appeal centres around the jurisdiction of Guyana’s Court of Appeal and the CCJ, as the country’s highest appellate court, to determine legal issues surrounding elections for members of the country’s National Assembly and the Office of the President, who are all elected via proportional representation.
Presenting submissions on behalf of PPP presidential candidate Irfaan Ali and general secretary Bharrat Jagdeo, Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes claimed that the Court of Appeal did not have the jurisdiction to hear and determine the case, in which it eventually ruled that “more votes cast” under Guyana’s Constitution should be interpreted to mean “more valid votes are cast”.
Following that court’s decision, delivered last Monday, Guyana’s Chief Election Officer Keith Lowenfield then produced a report on the “valid and credible votes” in the election, effectively striking out 25 per cent of the votes cast and showing a victory for the ruling APNU/AFC coalition.
Mendes claimed that Lowenfield’s move was in direct breach of a stay granted by the Appeal Court and a subsequent order granted by the CCJ.
Mendes noted that under Guyana’s Constitution, the Appeal Court has the exclusive jurisdiction to determine the validity of the President based on his/her qualifications.
However, he claimed that the High Court had the proper jurisdiction to determine elections petitions including over the validity of the votes. Petitions filed through the High Court can be then appealed to the Court of Appeal and then the CCJ.
Mendes noted that both systems could be accessed after elections results are declared and not before as was recently done by Lowenfield and Guyana’s Election Commission (GECOM).
“The court must resolve this conflict of jurisdiction,” Mendes said.
Presenting submissions on behalf of Eslyn David, the Guyanese citizen who brought the constitutional lawsuit, Senior Counsel John Jeremie maintained that the CCJ did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal based on the Court of Appeal’s exclusive jurisdiction. He called for the appeal to be dismissed.
Jeremie also pointed to a case, which he said showed that lawsuits such as the one pursued by his client could be brought before an election result is officially announced.
The United Republican Party, who was listed as an intervener in the case and supported the PPP’s position, was represented by Fyard Hosein, SC, Devesh Maharaj, Sasha Bridgemohansingh, Aadam Hosein and Kandace Bharath-Nahous.
The election crisis in Guyana arose in December 2018, when a no-confidence motion in the coalition government led by President David Granger, was passed by the 65 member assembly by a slim 33 to 32 majority.
Following the motion, which effectively forced the Cabinet to resign, Guyana’s Attorney General Basil Williams filed a High Court action against Jagdeo and Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, to determine if the motion was lawfully passed.
Acting Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire weighed in on the issue first and ruled that the motion was correct passed although Persaud was illegally sitting as an MP due to his dual citizenship.
Guyana’s Court of Appeal overturned the judgement as Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Appellate Judge Dawn Gregory ruled that an absolute majority of 34 votes was required to pass the no-confidence motion.
In July, last year, the CCJ ruled against the incumbent government essentially upholding George-Wiltshire’s judgement.
While the CCJ advised that under Guyana’s Constitution elections were due within three months of the no-confidence vote or its ruling, the election was delayed over issues with GECOM finalising the list of voters.