Emphasizing the importance of the three cases related to the No-Confidence Motion that were filed with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), and the need to not stifle lawyers from fully developing points in oral submissions, President of the court, Justice Adrian Saunders, has announced that the matters will now be heard over a two-day period, May 9 and May 10.
But as the CCJ gears up to hear these matters, a court action which seeks to block tomorrow’s sitting of the National Assembly is looming.
During a pretrial hearing yesterday, Attorney-at-Law Sanjeev Datadin who is representing expelled Alliance for Change (AFC) Parliamentarian Charrandass Persaud objected to the National Assembly meeting on the basis that the CCJ, Guyana’s highest court, is still to pronounce on these matters.
The lawyer made it clear that the sitting is a very important one since the Government is seeking to pass legislations in relation to companies in the oil and gas sector “and to do things related to finance.”
In this regard, the lawyer indicated that he will be filing an early application before the court to block the sitting.
Datadin tuned in via video conference. Justice Saunders, however, refused to comment on the issue, saying that there was no application of the sort before the CCJ.
Initially, Saunders had announced that the matters would be heard in entirety on Friday, May 10, even if the court had to work up to late in the afternoon. This was following a Case Management Conference (CMC) held at the Trinidad-based court on March 29.
Yesterday’s pretrial hearing was intended to resolve legal issues ahead of the trial and to streamline timelines for lawyers to present their submission.
At the hearing, Trinidad and Tobago -based Senior Counsel, Douglas Mendes, who is among the lawyers representing Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo; and Belize-based Counsel Eamon Courtney, who is among the lawyers representing the State, requested that more time be allotted to hear the matters.
Responding to the request, Justice Saunders said, “This is an important case, it raises some very interesting constitutional issues. And, while we don’t want counsel to prolong the oral arguments, nevertheless it is in our own interest that we should not stifle you, from fully developing points, which you have made in writing.”
Mendes expressed that he believes the one hour given to him to present submissions is too short.
He said, “I am cautioning that the time you allotted me will be too short. There are a number of issues that have to be traversed, very important ones about the constitution of Guyana. The one hour you have allotted to me I fear will be eaten up very quickly.”
“We all have your written submissions. So there is no point in you just really orally going over what is already there. It’s just a question of highlighting certain features… your best features in your 30 or 40 pages submissions on a particular point,” said Justice David Hayton who also sits on the panel of judges.
On the other hand, Courtney told the court that he wished to adapt the points made by the Senior Counsel. Nevertheless, Justice Saunders outlined the schedule for the hearing of the matters over the two-day period which commences on Thursday, May 09, at 10:00hrs.
All the parties in the matters will be taking part in oral submission except for the Speaker of the National Assembly, Barton Scotland, and the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). Senior Counsel Rafiq Khan and Excellence Dazzell, who are representing them respectively, said that the parties will abide by the ruling of the court.
The battery of lawyers includes Attorney General Basil Williams and Solicitor General Nigel Hawke; Attorneys-at-Law Kamal Ramkarran and Anil Nandlall who are representing Christopher Ram and Jagdeo; Attorney-at-Law Roysdale Forde is appearing for Joseph Harmon, in his capacity as a representative of A Partnership for National Unity.
Senior Counsel Neil Boston appears for private citizen Compton Reid. Jagdeo is asking the court to quash the Court of Appeal’s ruling which invalidated the passage of the No-Confidence motion on the night of December 21, last, in the National Assembly.
In a split decision, Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justice of Appeal Dawn Gregory held that 34 votes, which constitute an “absolute majority” of all members of the National Assembly, were needed for motion to be successfully passed.
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.
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.
In the end, Chief Justice Roxane George (ag) 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 represented a majority of all the members of the National Assembly present and voting and that it was more than enough to unseat the government.
The Chief Justice further ruled that although Persaud was disqualified from being elected as a member of the National Assembly due to him holding dual citizenship, his vote was preserved by the provisions set out in Article 165 (2) of the Constitution.
It 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.”
The Government later sought redress in the Court of Appeal.
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