[UPDATED] Early elections as CCJ upholds Guyana's no-confidence vote

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Port of Spain.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Port of Spain.

GUYANA will soon have to return to the polls as the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has given its decision validating December’s no-confidence vote against the ruling coalition government.

Timelines for the date for the election, as well as the appointment of a new chairman of the Guyana Election Commission (GECOM), are expected to be set on Monday, when the court hears from both sides before it grants the reliefs sought by the Guyanese Opposition in the consolidated appeals.

President of the CCJ Justice Adrian Saunders announced the court’s decision at the CCJ in Port of Spain on Tuesday.

In its judgment summary, which Saunders read out in court, the CCJ declared the motion of no-confidence in the Government valid. The court held that the majority of votes needed for the motion to succeed was “at least 33 votes.”

Presiding over the appeals were the CCJ president, and Justices Jacob Wit, Winston Anderson, Maureen Rajnauth-Lee and David Hayton.

The Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), its leader Bharrat Jagdeo, former APNU-AFC coalition member Charrandass Persaud and political commentator Christopher Ram filed the appeal seeking to have the CCJ – Guyana’s final appellate court – throw out the March ruling of Guyana’s Court of Appeal and restore the validity of the no-confidence motion that toppled President David Granger’s coalition government.

The appeal court, in a majority ruling, held there was a need for an absolute majority of 34 votes for the motion to be passed, and not the 33 votes it received in December.

By a majority of two to one, the appellate court judges ruled that the no-confidence motion was not passed.

In their application, the appellants contended by section 106(6) of the Constitution of Guyana, the Cabinet, including the president, is required to resign if the Government is defeated on the vote of a majority of all elected members of the assembly on a vote of no confidence.

They say the assembly comprises 65 elected members and on December 21, last year, when 33 members voted in favour of the motion and 32 against, the Speaker declared the motion passed.
They also contend that the Government was required to hold an election in three months, on or before March 22.

After the passage of the vote of no confidence Granger’s coalition government failed to demit office or call elections. Instead the validity of the motion was challenged in the courts in Guyana and eventually led to two days of hearings at the CCJ in May.

In dismissing the Guyana Government’s arguments on the requirement for a majority, the CCJ held that the country’s Constitution “referred to a majority of the total number of votes or seats in the National Assembly, irrespective of the number of members who actually vote.

“In determining that majority, the court was of the opinion that the ‘half plus one’ rule was not applicable,” Saunders said.

In their decision on Persaud’s ineligibility to vote because he held dual citizenship, the CCJ said the National Assembly was required to file an election petition in the Guyana High Court within 28 days after the publication of the 2015 election results, as provided for in the National Assembly (Validity of Elections) Act.

“Since this case was filed in January 2019, the Court held that the challenge to Mr Persaud’s election to the Assembly had been out of time. The Court also rejected the submission that Mr Persaud was absolutely required to vote against the motion of no-confidence along with other members of the Government,” Saunders said.

The CCJ also ruled against the Guyana Government’s contention that provisions of the Constitution only applied to “motions of confidence,” which could only be raised by a member of the Government, and not motions of no confidence.

Saunders said it was only a “linguistic difference” and “a different side of the same coin.”
The court’s main judgment was delivered by Saunders, with concurring decisions by Wit, Anderson and Rajnauth-Lee.

Anderson, in his comments, said there may be a need for drafters to revisit the “language of ‘confidence motions’ provisions in the Constitution to bring about more clarity.”

In a separate, but related judgment, the CCJ ruled that Granger’s appointment of retired Rev Justice James Patterson as chairman of the elections commission “was flawed and in breach of Guyana’s Constitution.”

The CCJ held that the most sensible approach to the process of appointing a chairman was for the Leader of the Opposition and the President to communicate with each other in good faith and even meet to discuss eligible candidates for the position before a list of nominees was submitted.
On Monday, the CCJ will hear from both sides on how the issue should be rectified, while also making it clear it will not entertain additional evidence on the issues decided on by the court.
Saunders, who spoke to attorneys who were both in Trinidad and via video-conferencing from Guyana's Appeal Court , encouraged the two sides to engage with each other for a mutually-agreed position.

The elections commission has previously told the president elections are only possible in late November, but the Opposition has argued that the list can be updated without house-to-house registration.

“We are hoping for a happy marriage between principle and practicality,” said Wit.
Saunders said the rulings were clear and the court is hoping the parties can agree on the consequential orders.

Guyana’s Government has repeatedly said it will abide by the CCJ’s ruling.

Speaking in Guyana, AG Basil Williams said the final court has spoken, adding that the court knocked the Government down on every point.

Jagdeo was represented by a team of attorneys including Douglas Mendes, SC, Devesh Maharaj, Kamal Ramkarran, Sanjeev Datadin and Kandace Bharath. The Attorney General's legal team was led by Eamon Courtenay, SC and GECOM was represented by a team led by Stanley Marcus,SC.

This story has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.

The Caribbean Court of Justice Tuesday morning ruled that the December 21 No Confidence Motion was properly passed with a vote of 33 members in the 65-seat National Assembly.

The case centers around the no-confidence motion in the coalition government led by President David Granger, which was passed by the 65 member assembly by a slim 33 to 32 majority on December 21, last year. The motion succeeded as former Government MP Charrandas Persaud controversially voted along with Opposition MPs based on moral grounds.

Following the motion, which effectively forced the Cabinet to resign and fresh elections to be held, Attorney General Basil Williams filed a High Court action against Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland, to determine if the motion was lawfully passed.

Persaud also filed an action challenging a subsequent decision to disqualify him as he holds Canadian citizenship.

Acting Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire first ruled that the motion was correctly passed although Persaud was illegally sitting as an MP due to his dual citizenship.

On March 22, the Court of Appeal overturned the judgment in a majority ruling which held that an absolute majority of 34 votes were required to pass the no-confidence motion.

Jagdeo is represented by a team of attorneys including Douglas Mendes,SC, Devesh Maharaj, Kandace Bharath, Anil Nandlall and Sanjeev Datadin. Williams' legal team is being led by Eamon Courtenay, SC.


"[UPDATED] Early elections as CCJ upholds Guyana’s no-confidence vote"

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