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CCJ to rule on Guyana’s recount challenge tomorrow

CCJ to rule on Guyana’s recount challenge tomorrow
President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders


Tomorrow, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will give its decision on the appeal which has challenged Guyana’s Court of Appeal decision relating to that country’s March 2 polls.

At the end of a full day of hearing, which was done remotely using video conferencing technology, President of the CCJ, Justice Adrian Saunders said they will deliver their decision at 3 pm on July 8.

“We understand the need for expedition on our part but we want to read and assimilate all the submissions and authorities as best we can and juxtapose this with the need for expedition,” Saunders said.

The CCJ was asked to pronounce determine if the Guyana Court of Appeal had the jurisdiction to hear the challenge of the validity of the polls before a president was declared by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).

Guyana’s main opposition, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) filed the appeal challenging the Court of Appeal’s decision and also asking for an interpretation of the words “more votes are cast.”

The Court of Appeal in its decision ordered that the words are to be interpreted as meaning “more valid votes are cast”.

The court also ruled that GECOM had a responsibility to determine the final credible count based on quantitative and qualitative assessments of the observation report, in keeping with provisions of the original order and in the final paragraph of the amended order.

The PPP/C’s political leader Bharrat Jagdeo and its presidential candidate Irfaan Ali have argued that the Court of Appeal did not have the jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Jagdeo and Ali are represented by Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes who said his clients were not seeking to invalidate the election but only to have those questions answered.

Mendes said it was only after the president was declared could the appellate court’s jurisdiction be invoked by way of an election petition. He said the Court of Appeal violated provision 140 of Guyana’s Representation of the People Act.

He said the Court of Appeal ought not to have accepted it had the jurisdiction to hear the complaint.

Guyana’s Attorney General Basil Williams argued that the appellate court’s ruling on the matter was final and the
CCJ does not have the jurisdiction to hear the PPP/C’s complaint.

Williams’ attorney Justin Simon, QC, urged the court to be cautious, saying, “We live in a democratic society.” He said to challenge the validity of the polls during the process, rather than after, was better since there was the risk of disenfranchising “whole section of the electorate in a democratic process.”

Senior Counsel John Jeremie, who represents a support of the ruling APNU+AFC, Estlyn David, who filed the motion in Guyana’s high court, also maintained the CCJ does not have the jurisdiction to hear the appeal since Guyana’s Constitution and the CCJ Act prohibits it. APNU’s Joseph Harmon, represented by Senior Counsel Reginald Armour, also dealt with the question of jurisdiction and held that the CCJ was not a court of unlimited jurisdiction.

““It is a regional apex court presiding over signatory sovereign member states and derives its jurisdictions and powers solely on the terms of its formative treaty, that is to say the agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice.

““Accordingly, any consideration as to whether this court has jurisdiction on this intended appeal must start …We submit and ends with the true interpretation of the terms of the agreement and, in particular, article 25(5), and read alongside the Caribbean Court of Justice Act 2004 and the Constitution of Guyana,” Armour said.

Until the CCJ gives its decision, an order it issued after the PPP/C filed its notice of appeal which required GECOM to take no steps to prejudice the fair hearing before it, remains in place.

After the Court of Appeal ruling, Guyana’s chief election officer Keith Lowenfield submitted what he said was a report of the “valid and credible votes” at the March 2 polls to GECOM, showing a victory for the incumbent APNU+AFC, after invalidating almost 25 per cent of the votes cast.

The PPP/C has said it won the elections based on the national recount of votes while the ruling APNU said the polls were filled with irregularities. Five judges sat on Wednesday’s panel.

They were the president of the court and Justices Jacob Wit, Maureen Rajnauth-Lee, Denys Barrow, and Peter Jamadar.