AG calls for greater swiftness in pace of electoral fraud cases at Magistrates’ Courts

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Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, has expressed concern over the pace that the Magistrates’ Courts in Georgetown in dealing with the dozens of electoral fraud charges that were filed against several former Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) officials and political activists over their involvement in attempts to sway the results of the March 2020 General and Regional Elections.

“I have expressed my concern about the pace at which these cases are being dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court, or the lack of pace,” Nandlall disclosed during this week’s edition of his programme, Issues In The News.

Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC

Stemming from the March 2, 2020 elections, some 32 electoral fraud cases have been filed in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts against several political activists including APNU/AFC’s Volda Lawrence and GECOM officials including former Chief Elections Officer (CEO) Keith Lowenfield, his Deputy Roxanne Myers and embattled Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo.

Most of these charges were filed in late 2020 and early 2021.

According to Nandlall, he did not raise his concerns in the past because he wanted to allow the system to work but nearly two years later, those matters are still languishing in the court system.

“I’ve had conversations with the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions, Shalimar Ali-Hack) and the report is that Magistrates within the system are not proceeding with the matter with the seriousness and the expediency with which they should, having regard to the importance of the matter and having regard to the length of time that the matters are pending before them.”

“Magistrates have made applications to recuse themselves and some are simply not determining whether the case should be tried summarily, meaning in the Magistrate’s Court, or should be taken indictably before a Judge and a jury. That’s a decision that Magistrates have to make. It’s a procedural decision that has to be made to determine how the cases will move forward [but] Magistrates have not been making that decision. One Magistrate has made the decision that the matter be taken indictably and that particular matter is being appealed. But that is only one charge out of 32,” the AG contended.

Nandlall went on to outline that these matters are of utmost importance to Guyana and its people since the charges on which they are predicated, are grave and serious. He noted that when such alleged acts are committed, then it is the State of Guyana that is under attack and therefore, the State has a responsibility to ensure, in this case particularly, that the charges brought are heard and determined within reasonable time and in accordance with evidence and the applicable law.

To this end, the Attorney General disclosed that he has requested the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose office is prosecuting these matters, to push for the cases to be treated with the type of seriousness and alacrity warranted.

In the same breath, however, Nandlall clarified that by doing this, he is in no way stepping over any boundaries. He pointed out that as Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General, he is answerable for matters in the justice sector and therefore, has a responsibility to speak out when cases are not being processed, heard and determined within a reasonable time as they deserve.

“I hope that what I say here is not twisted and misinterpreted to mean that I’m being unduly critical to any Magistrate or that I’m ascribing improper motive to any Magistrate or that I’m bringing the administration of justice into disrepute or that I’m trying to in any form or fashion influence the outcome of any case because I am doing no such thing. And I want to make that abundantly clear. I’m expressing views that I’m duty bound to express as the Minister positioned where I am,” AG Nandlall asserted.

Nevertheless, the election fraud cases were called up last month and have been adjourned until October 6.

Given the seriousness of these cases, the DPP Office has recruited several private legal practitioners to prosecute the matters. The case for the prosecution is being led by Darshan Ramdhani, QC, while Senior Counsel John Jeremie and Attorneys-at-Law Nigel Hughes, Ronald Daniels, Konyo Sandiford, Eusi Anderson, and Latoya Roberts are appearing on behalf of the three accused persons.

Lowenfield is facing three counts of forgery and three counts of misconduct in public office, while Mingo and Myers are facing separate charges for misconduct in public office.

Lowenfield’s election report claimed that the APNU/AFC coalition garnered 171,825 votes while the PPP/C gained 166,343 votes.

How he arrived at those figures is still unknown, since the certified results from the recount exercise supervised by GECOM and a high-level team from the Caribbean Community (Caricom) pellucidly showed that the PPP/C won with 233,336 votes while the coalition garnered 217,920.

The recount exercise also proved that Mingo had heavily inflated the figures in Region Four—Guyana’s largest voting District, in favour of the then caretaker APNU/AFC regime.

In August 2021, GECOM voted to terminate Lowenfield, Myers, and Mingo.

The firing of these officials was met with much satisfaction by the Government, which hailed it as a step in the right direction to restoring public confidence in GECOM.  (This story was first published by the Guyana Times)