In recent times there has been a sudden increase in the number of people approaching the courts. This has nothing to do with private matters. Rather, it is about people seeking to stall criminal trials in the magistrates’ courts.
Indeed, the courts are there to ensure that justice is served. Everyone is entitled to his idea of a fair trial.
The first approach came from former Attorney General Anil Nandlall. He was charged with the unlawful possession of some law books. The matter went through the preliminary stages, then the magistrate called on Nandlall to lead a defence because she felt that a case had been made out.
The second matter involved Irfaan Ali, the former Minister of Housing. He was slapped with nineteen charges stemming from actions he took while a Minister. The state found that his actions were contrary to the norms.
Ali has gone to the court to stop the magistrate from continuing with the trial.
Of interest is that both Nandlall and Ali are being touted as presidential hopefuls. The law stipulates that once convicted, a person could be barred from being a Member of Parliament. By extension, the challenges are intended to ensure that both Nandlall and Ali do not become tainted by any conviction.
It cannot escape notice that many are moving to the courts for a reversal of decisions. There were people found guilty of murder who challenged the harsh sentence. Some challenged the summing up by the trial judge.
There must have been something in those challenges, because some have been overturned and a retrial ordered. Some of the convictions secured a reduced sentence. I now notice that a man convicted of rape is appealing his sentence.
Commenting on the challenge by Nandlall and Ali, one man on the road said that he could see people being charged for one offence or the other and asking the court to either stop the trial or defer it until a later date.
The no-confidence motion has also attracted the attention of the court. There is the view that the coalition government is stalling because it does not want to go to the polls. Things have reached the stage where people are now directing the courts.
For the record, the courts are independent; no one can tell the court how to operate, but this convention is not being observed. People have actually filed an action asking the court to hear the matters speedily. Even Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo is asking the court to do so.
There was a time when the Guyana Court of Appeal was the final court. That changed when Guyana signed on to the Caribbean Court of Justice. Since then, there have been some rulings that overturned the decisions by the Guyana Court of Appeal.
One such ruling that stands out involved the Opposition Leader. The constitution, by way of an amendment, limited any president to no more than two consecutive terms. That having been settled, a man named Richardson moved to the courts to have this amendment overturned.
The High Court, through a ruling by Chief Justice Ian Chang, found that the amendment was unconstitutional. The state appealed. The matter ended up at the Guyana Court of Appeal where there was a majority decision that supported the Chief Justice.
The matter went to the Caribbean Court of Justice where both the decisions by the High Court and the Guyana Court of Appeal were overturned.
The dissenting vote on the Guyana Court of Appeal came from the current Chancellor, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards. It turned out to be the decision that was in sync with the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Of course, there was a dissenting vote there also. The matter was heard by the full court of the Caribbean Court of Justice. Seven judges sat and seven judges deliberated.
In the end, by a vote of six to one, the CCJ overturned both the High Court and the Guyana Court of Appeal decisions. There were some interesting comments on the vote. One lawyer for the state said that no one can take consolation from the dissenting vote.
One judge said to me that lawyers learn that what could be seen as a victory at one time following an interpretation of the arguments, could find that others see the matter differently.
For example, in the case of former Minister Jennifer Westford, the magistrate ruled that she was not a public officer and so the charge of larceny by a public officer could not stand. The state has appealed that decision. The matter is still to be heard by the Guyana Court of Appeal.
If the decision does not find favour with either party, then there will be an approach to the Caribbean Court of Appeal.
There is an interesting thing about some of these approaches to the court. If the opposition should prevail at the impending elections, then the president can simply discontinue prosecution. Such is the nature of politics.
Needless to say, if the state discontinues the charges, then that is the end of the matter. Some believe that Nandlall’s approach to the court and the approach by Ali could be a ruse to buy time. The opposition expects elections ninety days after the December 21, 2018 passage of the no-confidence motion in the National Assembly.
One can therefore understand the move by both Ali and Nandlall to the courts. Even if the High Court refuses to halt the trials in the magistrates’ courts, a new government formed by the opposition can still halt what remains of the trials.
Interesting times are ahead.
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