By Feona Morrison
Lawyers were ordered by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to provide written submissions on what should be the consequential orders following last Tuesday’s landmark rulings—that government was defeated by the No-Confidence Motion which was passed in the National Assembly on the night of December 21, 2018—and that the President’s unilateral appointment of a Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) was flawed, in other words, unconstitutional.
The parties have to file submissions by July 1, and the court is expected to hand down its ruling by July 12.
Apart from the submissions, the CCJ indicated to the lawyers that it would be open to receiving their suggestions as to a consensual referral between the parties. But in the meantime, the court says it expects to receive those submissions just in case that consensus is not arrived at.
During a post-ruling hearing yesterday at the court’s Trinidad-based headquarters, Belizean lawyer Eamon Courtenay, who is representing the government, advocated for the parties to file submissions on the issues before the court makes any directions. He told the CCJ that the matters at hand involve some very serious constitutional issues that resound in politics. In this regard, the CCJ was in full accord.
According to Courtenay, “We are dealing with very serious constitutional issues that resound in politics. My learned friend (Opposition’s Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes) articulates a position, for example that the Cabinet and the President should all resign forthwith; in the same breath they call for a week to 10 days for a meeting with the President who has resigned, and the leader of the Opposition. It is impossibility. There are issues of setting a date for elections and whether or not the CCJ has the power – as a matter of Constitutional law, respecting the separation of powers – to set a date for an election to be held in the Republic of Guyana.”
Moreover, Courtenay urged that great care should be taken before the court displaces what it has repeatedly called the presumption of regularity, that is to say, that governments will obey court orders and do what the law requires, and that it is only in absolute necessity that this court will issue a coercive order against state parties.
President of the CCJ Justice Adrian Saunders said that the court is there to ensure that the rule of law is observed in Guyana. Justice Saunders explained that politicians must adhere to the rule of law, and in doing so, must display a spirit of compromise to ensure that same is upheld at all times.
In relation to the Guyana Elections Commission’s contention that there needs to be a new Official List of Electors (OLE) before credible elections can be held, Justice Saunders stated that persons now qualified to vote should be registered to do so, while noting that the government was defeated by a motion of no confidence and the Constitution stipulates that elections must be held within three months from the passing of such a motion.
In this regard, Justice Saunders pointed out that there must be compromise between these Constitutional principles. Furthermore, Courtenay submitted that if the court should adapt Mendes’ submission, it would mean that the court would have to make a coercive order against the President directing him to dissolve parliament and to set a date for elections.
In concluding, Mendes urged the court to move with all deliberate speed on this highly sensitive, highly political issue. He added that there “cannot and should not be a play down for the need for a new list of electors”. According to the lawyer, anything short of this is a prescription for GECOM saying the date for elections has to be postponed.
Courtenay advanced, “I urge caution. I urge deliberation and I urge the opportunity for the parties to work at a solution.”
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