Chief Justice May Have Erred In Confidence Vote Judgment
Submitted by Rickford Burke, President of The Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID)
Yesterday, January 31, 2018 Guyana’s Chief Justice, Hon. Roxann George-Wiltshire, upheld the constitutionality of the December 21, 2018 no confidence vote against the APNU+AFC coalition government of Guyana. The Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID) disagrees with the ruling of the Madam Chief Justice.
After careful deliberation with our legal counsels and Attorneys in Guyana, CGID has concluded that the Chief Justice erred in her interpretation of Article 156.3 (a) and (b) of the Guyana constitution by ignoring the intent of the framers in its construction. We believe the ruling is “activist” in nature, as rather than interpret the intent of the provision, which is the role of the court, the Chief Justice apparently reshaped Article 156.3 (a) and (b); thereby rendering the provision, as originally constructed, unenforceable.
CGID also believes the ruling is contradictory. Madam Chief Justice held that the election of a member of the National Assembly can only be challenged pursuant to an election petition within twenty-eight days of said election. Consequently, absent an elections petition and the mandated statutory provision for such having expired, she affirmed that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain a challenge to the validity of Charrandass Persaud’s 2015 election to the National Assembly. Accordingly, she declined to nullify Persaud’s election. Notwithstanding the lack of jurisdiction, the court proceeded, nonetheless, to declare that Persaud as a consequence of his dual citizenship was ineligible for election to the National Assembly, and that his presence therein was a breach of the constitution. Effectively, the Chief Justice disqualified Charrandas Persaud as a candidate for said election in which she held the court lacked jurisdiction to review.
We also believe that the Chief Justice exceeded the authority of the court by reinterpreting the “absolute majority” entrenchment elucidated by Sir. Dennis Byron, then Chief Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), in his judgement in Attorney General v Cedric Richardson (2018 CCJ-17-AJ). Moreover, the Chief Justice’s declination to stay her judgement pending appeal is extraordinary and enigmatic.
The issues we have enumerated are fertile grounds for appeal. CGID therefore supports the government’s decision to appeal the judgement of the Chief Justice in keeping with the rule of law. We look forward to the intervention of the Guyana Court of Appeals and the CCJ.
Furthermore, CGID notes the Chief Justice’s order disqualifying members of the National Assembly who possess dual citizenship. Although such disqualification was not pursuant to an election petition, as the Chief Justice’s judgement seems to mandate, her order effectively disqualifies several sitting members of the National Assembly on both the opposition and government branches; including several government ministers, from being members of Parliament. Particularly, unless the Guyana Court of Appeals or the CCJ grants a stay of the judgment, government ministers with dual citizenship ceased to be ministers of as of January 31, 2019. Consequently, CGID urges His Excellency, President David Granger, to contemplate an immediate reassignment of ministerial responsibilities to ensure the continuity of government and delivery of services to the people of Guyana.
Although CGID disagrees with the judgment of the Madam Chief Justice, subject to appeal, we respect said judgment as a function of our democratic system of government which ensures that the rule of law is supreme. Further, we affirm the probity and distinguished service of the Honorable Chief Justice, and eschew any attack on her integrity and honor.