Ahead of the Friday, May 10 hearing of three cases related to the No-Confidence motion, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will be hosting a pretrial hearing this morning, aimed at resolving legal issues before the actual trial begins.
Following a Case Management Conference (CMC) on March 29, President of the CCJ Adrian Saunders ordered that the cases be consolidated, and regarded and treated as urgent, since they are matters of extreme importance.
Saunders had said, “When we have the pre-trial review, we will address issues which have to do with the order and length of oral submissions. But I must warn that we are trying to discourage duplication, and parties should co-operate with each other, so that you don’t have two parties addressing us on the same points and making the same arguments.”
Justice Saunders continued, “We have set down one day (May 10) for this matter and we are going to try to hear it that day. We will start at nine, out of an abundance of caution. It would be appropriate that all counsel appear in person. This is a matter of extreme importance and we can’t afford hitches with the telecommunications and the slight disadvantage a party appearing by video might have relative to a party appearing in person.”
The President had also said, “We work till the end, even if we are here until 4 or 5 o’clock.”
On the night of December 21, last, 33 of the 65 members of the National Assembly voted in favour of a No-Confidence motion brought against the coalition government by the Parliamentary Opposition, People’s Progressive Party (PPP).
Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Barton Scotland thereafter ruled that the motion provided for under Article 106 (6) of the Constitution of Guyana, was successfully passed. That Article reads, “The President including the cabinet shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly on a vote of confidence.”
The successful passage of such a motion means that the President and Ministers of Government should resign and that elections be held within three months in accordance with Article 106 (7) of the Constitution of Guyana.
According to that Article, “Notwithstanding its defeat, the Government shall remain in office and shall hold an election within three months, or such longer period as the National Assembly shall by resolution supported by not less than two-thirds of the votes of all the elected members of the National Assembly, and shall resign after the President takes the oath of office following the election.”
But Government has insisted that 34 votes were required for it to be defeated and that the vote of Alliance For Change (AFC) Member of Parliament, Charrandass Persaud, who voted in favour of the motion, was invalid, since he held dual citizenship which contravenes Article 155 (1) (a) of the Constitution of Guyana.
That Article states, “No person shall be qualified for election as a member of the National Assembly who is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state.” As such, the Government filed action in the High Court.
Chief Justice Roxane George ruled that the No-Confidence Motion was successfully passed and that the vote of Persaud was valid despite his dual citizenship. In essence, she held that 33 votes were required to unseat the government.
The Chief Justice further ruled that Persaud’s vote was preserved by the provisions set out in Article 165 (2) of the Constitution which states, “The Assembly may act notwithstanding any vacancy in its membership … (even) after any dissolution of Parliament and the presence or participation of any person not entitled to be present or to participate in the proceedings of the Assembly, shall not invalidate those proceedings.”
On appeal, the Court of Appeal in a majority ruling invalidated the passage of the No-Confidence Motion on the ground that 34 votes, which constitute an “absolute majority” of all members of the National Assembly, were needed for its successful passage.
In the majority ruling by Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justice of Appeal Dawn Gregory, the Judges alluded to submissions proffered by Queen’s Counsel (QC) Dr. Francis Alexis, a former Attorney General of Grenada, who was hired by the State.
The Appellate Judges held that, in calculating the “absolute majority”, the 65 members of the National Assembly had to be divided by two, which would result in 32.5, but since the .5 represents half and there is no half-member, that number needs to be rounded off to 33, and add one more, making the majority 34—an absolute majority—which is needed to topple a government.
Representing the State are Attorney General Basil Williams, Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, and Senator and Attorney-at-Law Eamon Courtenay of Belize. Attorneys-at-Law Kamal Ramkarran and Sanjeev Datadin are representing on behalf of Christopher Ram and Charrandass Persaud respectively.
Attorneys-at-Law Anil Nandlall and Roysdale Forde are appearing respectively for Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo and Joseph Harmon, in his capacity as a representative of A Partnership for National Unity. Senior Counsel Neil Boston appears for private citizen Compton Reid, while Attorney-at-Law Rafiq Khan is representing Dr. Scotland.
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