…AG says PPP sought similar order at CCJ and was refused
…maintains GECOM can compile a register as was done in 2008
ATTORNEY General, Basil Williams said the statement by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George-Wiltshire regarding the removal of persons from the National Register of Registrants seems more like a suggestion to the Guyana Elections Commission as the very issue was raised at the Caribbean Court of Justice and the order sought in relation to it was refused.
Williams also said that chief justice herself had insisted that she would not give directives to elections body and other constitutional actors.
George-Wiltshire on Wednesday in her ruling on the house-to-house registration case said that Guyanese previously registered and residing overseas could not be removed from the National Register of Registrants. She said unless the persons change their addresses through a new house-to-house verification process or by registering at a district office, they would have to vote in the district in which they were registered.
The Opposition has taken wholesale the statement to suggest that the ongoing registration exercise was useless.
CCJ refused similar order
However, Williams reminded that the issue of registration was raised and dealt with extensively at the Caribbean Court of Justice and the opposition had even asked in their consequential orders proposals for the court to order GECOM to use the expired NRR to arrive at the Official List of Electors, which was refused by the regional court.
At the CCJ the Opposition Leader through his lawyer, Senior Counsel Douglas Mendez submitted to the Court that it was not necessary for the Elections Commission to proceed with House-to-House Registration – a process that results in a fresh and credible List of Electors. According to him, the expired list can be used. “…It is respectfully submitted that in order so far as possible to ensure compliance with the constitutional mandate to hold an election no later than March, 2019, the election which must now be held, ought to [be] ordered to be held on the basis of the Official List of Electors in existence on March 21, 2019,” Mendez submitted. But by virtue of its decision that only the President, the National Assembly and GECOM can set out a timeline for hosting of elections, the CCJ had also rejected that line of argument by the Opposition Leader and his battery of lawyers.
“So the Learned Chief Justice just in the same way she upheld the res judicata principle would want to apply it in this matter,” Williams said.
Justice George-Wiltshire had ruled that the notice of application by the Attorney-General was correct in urging that the issue is res judicata. The Attorney-General and the Solicitor General Nigel Hawke had repeatedly argued that the issues raised in Christopher Ram’s Fixed Date Application were Res Judicata for ‘Issue Estoppel’- meaning that the matter has already been settled by a judicial decision, in this case, the CCJ. As such, the Chief Justice ruled that she could not grant the order sought by Ram.
“So given all that I have mentioned I respectfully suggest this issue of not removing persons from the list amounts to a suggestion by the court for the consideration by GECOM. This is not an order. The Learned Chief Justice couldn’t intend to direct GECOM,” Williams told the Guyana Chronicle on Thursday.
He argued that like the CCJ, Justice George-Wiltshire maintained that she could not set timelines and deadlines and give directives. He said the opposition lawyer, Anil Nandlall never asked for such an order in his application to the court “and certainly we never had the opportunity to address this issue.”
The opposition, through Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram, had asked the court for several declarations aimed at blocking and invalidating the national registration exercise as well as compelling GECOM to hold elections on or before September 18, 2019. All these orders were denied. “All that the applicant asked for, the court refused just as in the case of the CCJ, and of course the court accepted that the matter was res judicata, they were re-litigating before her,” the attorney general told reporters outside of the courtroom, shortly after the judgment was handed down on Wednesday afternoon.
He stressed that the issue of sanitising the NRR did not form part of the application filed by Ram nor was it a declaration sought, and as such, the government, through him, nor GECOM, had the opportunity to contest that specific element.
Abolishing of overseas voting
“The important thing about this is that overseas voting was abolished in Guyana, and that’s why the qualification of residency was an additional one that was facilitated under Article 159 (2) (c), which spoke about additional qualifications, could be arrived at by the passage of act of Parliament, and that’s why the National Registration Act and also the Representation of the People Act contain provision for residency,” the attorney general explained.
He added, “residency is a very important aspect because that is the only way you can locate someone for voting.” Williams maintained that Article 159 (5) states that GECOM can compile a register as was done in 2008 when a new register was compiled as a result of house-to-house registration. GECOM, he said, would have to decide whether it will appeal that section of the ruling that addresses the removal of persons from the list.
“But what is very important is that house-to-house registration is not unconstitutional; no date was ever fixed by the CCJ and she (Chief Justice) wouldn’t fix a date either nor no election ought to be held within three months as they had contended and generally there was nothing that was asked for by the applicant that was successful,” the attorney general summarised.
For his part, Roysdale Forde, the attorney that represented the Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield, in association with Senior Counsel, Neil Boston, told reporters that the elections body would have to decide its next move. “Subject to further instructions, of my own opinion at this present time, I believe that there is a serious ground, a serious flaw in the decision to that extent and I would advise my client to appeal. The issue was never raised as part of the pleadings in the document. You heard that the court dismissed every application filed,” Forde told reporters outside of the courtroom. GECOM’s Attorney, Senior Counsel Stanley Marcus also indicated that he will be guided by the Elections Commission’s decision.