The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Thursday maintained that the status quo in Guyana should remain as it is.
This is in order for there to be a fair determination of the issues raised in an appeal by that country’s opposition in relation to the election of the President.
At a case management conference, CCJ president Justice Adrian Saunders said, “The status quo on the ground must remain as it is” to ensure the matter before it is not prejudiced.
Saunders said Wednesday’s order to the parties will be restated to maintain the status quo until the court gives its decision, adding that it did not “want to hear of anything being done to prejudice the proceedings before us.”
The court will hear the arguments on July 1.
Wednesday’s order effectively blocked Guyana’s Election Commission (GECOM) from using a report presented to the commission’s chairman on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Guyana’s Court of Appeal ruled on the constitutional meaning of “votes cast” at the March 2 polls. The court's decision was immediately appealed to the CCJ by opposition People's Progressive Party (PPP) general secretary Bharrat Jagdeo and PPP/C presidential candidate Irfaan Ali.
The CCJ’s order required GECOM to take no steps to prejudice the fair hearing of Jagdeo and Ali’s application.
Neither GECOM, its chairman nor the chief election officer put in an appearance at Thursday’s sitting, although Jagdeo’s attorney, Douglas Mendes, SC, said they had all been served with the applications and the order.
On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal made an order to the effect that the words “more votes cast” should be interpreted to mean “more valid votes are cast in relation to the election held on 2nd March 2020.”
After the Court of Appeal ruling, Guyana's chief election officer Keith Lowenfield submitted what he said was a report of the “valid and credible votes” at the March 2 polls to GECOM, showing a victory for the incumbent APNU+AFC, after invalidating almost 25 per cent of the votes cast.
The CCJ said its order prohibits the declaration of the results until the court issues final orders after the matter has been determined.
Guyana’s Attorney General Basil Williams said there was some confusion, since the CCJ’s order made no reference to a stay.
His statement was in response to a concern raised by Mendes that despite the Court of Appeal granting a three-day stay, the CEO “nevertheless managed to find his way to invalidate 115,000 votes.”
“So that if what he did was an error, then he should withdraw his report,” Mendes said.
He also accused Williams of “seeing it fit to speak on behalf of the CEO to provide excuses.” Williams objected to this and pointed out that the court granted no coercive orders.
Saunders said while the court cannot undo what the chief election officer had done, he invited the parties to address the issue of its lawfulness in their submissions, since the court was not going to embark on hearing the substantive issues.
“We do not intend to drag out the proceedings by hearing preliminary points. We wish to have the status quo maintained and do not want to hear of anything being done to prejudice the proceedings before us,” he added.
The court will hear the appeal as well as the preliminary objection by the AG that the CCJ did not have the jurisdiction to hear the intended appeal.
He has argued, in an affidavit filed in objection, that the appellate court’s ruling on the constitutional claim brought by private citizen Eslyn David was final and cannot be appealed to the CCJ.
David is represented by Senior Counsel John Jeremie and Keith Scotland.
The CCJ set strict timelines for next Wednesday’s hearing, which will also include submissions from intervening political parties.
A full court is expected to sit on the panel. The seven judges who make up the full court are: the president of the court and Justices Jacob Wit, Winston Anderson, Maureen Rajnauth-Lee, Denys Barrow, Andrew Burgess and Peter Jamadar.