-matter to reach CCJ
The Court Of Appeal yesterday upheld a decision by former Chief Justice Ian Chang, ruling that the two-term presidential limit is unconstitutional.
With a decision of two to one, the court dismissed the appeal made by Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams to overturn the judgment of the former Chief Justice (CJ), which essentially stated that an elected President can run for more than two terms.
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh was supported by Justice of Appeal, B.S Roy in upholding Justice Chang’s decision. Chief Justice (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards, who also sat on the panel, gave a dissenting judgment.
The former CJ’s ruling was based on a Constitutional challenge, filed on behalf of Georgetown resident, Cedric Richardson in February, 2014.
The applicant argued that Act 17 of 2001, which was passed by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly, unconstitutionally curtailed and restricted his sovereign and democratic rights and freedom as a qualified elector to elect former President Bharrat Jagdeo as the Executive President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
Richardson had contended that the limit was unconstitutional and illegal.
He also wanted the court to determine whether the amendment with a referendum should not have been held, instead of the two-thirds majority in the National Assembly having the powers to decide to limit the number of terms.
After several months in the court, the former CJ ruled in favour of Richardson’s argument, setting the stage for Jagdeo to have a third term as President.
However, the decision did not sit well with Attorney General Basil Williams and the APNU/AFC administration. Williams moved to the Court of Appeal to overturn the decision. In his Appeal, Williams posited that Justice Chang “erred and misdirected himself in the law” in ruling that the National Assembly which passed Act No. 17 of 2001 is unconstitutional and of no effect as it failed to comply with Article164 (2)(a) of the Constitution.
The Attorney General said that he believed that Justice Chang also erred in ruling that the Act in question, in substance and effect, diminishes the democratic right of the electorate in electing a person of their own choice as President.
Williams also posited that Chang erred in law in not satisfying himself that the Court has jurisdiction to grant the reliefs sought.
Meanwhile in his representation of the appellant Attorney-at-Law Roysdale Forde, outlined the respondent, (Richardson) contended that Act No. 17 of 2001, though it purported to amend Article 90 of the Constitution of Guyana by adding two Clauses to the said Article 90, had the effect and consequence of curtailing and diminishing the electorate’s choice of Presidential Candidate, by rendering ineligible the candidature of any person who had been re-elected once as President.
Forde therefore underlined that the exercise of a choice of a Presidential Candidate by the Respondent or a citizen occurs or culminates at the Ballot Box. It was therefore submitted that the right to choose a Presidential Candidate does not extend to the eligibility of or the disqualification of possible candidates for President,”
However Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh yesterday discharged the appeal by the AG, describing it essentially as an error.
In his ruling the Chancellor said that any law that would have the effect of suppressing the peoples’ right to freely elect someone of their choice would be unconstitutional.
In his ruling, Chancellor Singh asserted that the people are entitled, in keeping with democratic principles, to freely elect their representatives. He noted that any law that the sovereign and democratic entitlement is entrenched the Articles 1 and 9 of the constitution. This legal entitlement, he emphasized, could only be changed by referendum to achieve legitimacy.
But in her dissenting judgment, Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards ruled in favour of allowing the appeal. She noted that the amendment to limit presidential terms to two, did not alter, dilute, affect or amend Articles 1 and 9 of Guyana’s constitution.
Justice Cummings-Edwards further explained that the people themselves gave that power to Parliament to change the constitution within the various levels of entrenchment, and affect people’s right to vote or choose who should be their president in keeping with certain restrictions.
Justice Cummings-Edwards also said that the appellant failed to prove the amendment that provides for term limits was unconstitutional.
Following the decision, Attorney General Basil Williams asserted that while the Court has made a ruling, the decision is not absolutely final. Williams noted that his legal team has up to thirty (30) days to file action with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Meanwhile lawyer for the applicant, Shawn Allicock emphasized on the seriousness of the matter. He noted that democratic rights of people take precedence in such matter. Allicock expressed confidence that that his side will be victorious at the next stage of the proceedings.
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