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Trinidad and Tobago

CCJ gives new meaning to urgency

THE EDITOR: The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) announced on Monday that it is likely to deliver a ruling on Tuesday on three (political) matters relating to Guyana that were heard a month ago. It was supposed to be an urgent hearing and judgment.

The CCJ must be applauded for giving new meaning to the term “judicial urgency” as it relates to a critical constitutional issue of whether a government can remain in office after it loses a no-confidence vote.

The appeal to the CCJ was filed in late March and oral arguments heard some six weeks later in Trinidad and a ruling has taken more than four weeks.

In the First World, like the US or Australia or Canada or the UK, judicial urgency means the judges deliver a judgment on a constitutional issue within hours or days.

In India, the Supreme Court also rendered a judgment on urgent appeals within hours or a few days.

In the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia, urgent appeals were at times requested on disputed election matters. The court rendered judgments within a couple days.

In the Bush/Gore election petition of November 2000, for example, the Federal court heard the case and rendered judgment within a day. The matter was appealed to the Supreme Court (final court) and heard right away with judgment given a day later.

In the Anglophone Caribbean, as the Guyana cases illustrate, an urgent appeal takes months.

One can understand why only four countries in Caricom have expressed faith in the CCJ – it does not understand urgency.

The three Guyana cases are straightforward: one has to do with what is the majority of 65.

The Guyana government and judges say 34 is a majority of 65. This is not complex space-related mathematics. The judges may be spaced out, but any nursery child knows that 33 is a majority of 65. Any other number will make the CCJ a laughing stock.

Another case deals with whether a disqualified Member of Parliament (on account of being a dual citizen that is prohibited) can vote on a motion (the no-confidence vote).

The Guyana constitution clearly states that not withstanding the illegal participation of a MP illegally voting on a motion, his or her vote stands counted and cannot be reversed. The constitution states that if an elected person is suspected of not being qualified to serve as MP, an election petition must be filed.

The dual nationality MP told the leader of his party he holds Canadian citizenship. The leader told him not to worry about it since several other MPs also hold dual citizenship.

Indeed, eight other MPs held dual citizenship of the UK, the US, or Canada and they all voted on the no-confidence motion as well as on other motions going back years.

The third matter before the CCJ is whether the Guyana President can unilaterally appoint the chair of the Elections Commission. The chair votes to break ties in the six-member commission (three appointed by the President and three appointed by the Opposition Leader).

The Guyana constitution states that the President must appoint a chair from among nominees submitted by the Opposition Leader. The lower court and court of appeal in Guyana ruled that the President can unilaterally appoint the chair if the President is not satisfied with the nominees of the Opposition Leader; the clause in the constitution does not allow for such loose interpretation.

The Opposition Leader nominated 18 members, including a former Election Commission chairman and several individuals who campaigned for President David A Granger’s party. Granger rejected all of them saying they are not qualified and appointed a supporter of his party who served as a judge in the Grenada treason trial that convicted Bernard Coard and others.

It should not be too difficult for the CCJ judges to interpret the plain language of the constitution. But it still takes the five judges a month to interpret the law.

It seems clear how the CCJ will rule on the matters. The bigger issue will be to enforce its ruling if indeed it rules against the government. Judicial rulings have hardly been enforced in Guyana.

VISHNU BISRAM via e-mail

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