Changes to LAAs: High Court has jurisdiction to hear case, dismisses AG’s challenge

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Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams

Ahead of the substantive case regarding Bibi Shaddick’s challenge to Communities Minister Ronald Bulkan’s changes to several local authority areas (LAAs), High Court Judge Justice Gino Persaud has dismissed Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams’s jurisdiction challenge, saying that his argument that the matter should be heard via an elections petition after the November 12 Local Government Elections (LGE) was not a relevant enough issue.

Justice Persaud highlighted that no Councillor has been elected and were not at that stage. He said the court has jurisdiction to hear the case.

The AG however signaled that he will look at appealing the jurisdiction ruling saying that Justice Persaud focused on cases that were not in keeping to his case.

Williams in his application to strike out the action filed by Shaddick had observed that it was made on the grounds that the applicant’s contentions amounted to allegations of irregularities and illegalities challenging the validity of the Local Government Elections, which have been gazetted to be held on November 12.

Williams further contended that the court has no jurisdiction to entertain the application by Shaddick, on the premise that once allegations of irregularities and illegalities are raised after the election process has begun (Order made on July 18, 2018), the law requires that any such challenge must come after the elections are held and by way of an elections petition.

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall

Former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, who is the lawyer representing Shaddick said that her legal challenge is geared to correct issues that need to be corrected before the hosting of the Elections and not to block the overall Elections from happening.

Among Shaddick’s several orders of which she petitioned the court, is to bring the Communities Minister’s alterations into the conformity with Local Democratic Organs Act, Chapter 28:09.

In so doing, the Applicant wants to have Bulkan’s orders declared null and void. She is also seeking the State to pay her court costs in addition to seeking other orders, directions or writs as the court sees fit.

Her grounds are that Bulkan failed to issue an order to identify the said boundaries under the Local Democratic Organs Act, making his actions null and void. She meanwhile said that Chief Elections Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Keith Lowenfield went beyond his exercise of discretion, re-demarcating the existing constituency boundaries as outlined in the orders sought before the court.

The writ also outlines that the purported establishment of seven NDCs without complying with the provisions of the Local Democratic Organs Act is unlawful, ultra vires, null, void and of no effect. She said too that Lowenfield acted without authorisation in this regard, while adding that Minister Bulkan unilaterally made changes to the number of seats in 14 LAAs.

Nandlall has meanwhile welcomed the courts decision as he once again accused the AG of employing methods to delay the case until after the holding of local government elections.

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