Judiciary cannot rewrite Constitution, insert provisions – former T&T PM

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The recent Court of Appeal ruling that an “absolute” majority of 34 was needed to validly pass a no-confidence motion in Guyana’s National Assembly continues to be analysed and commented on, with veteran politician and former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday weighing in on the matter.

Panday on Saturday speaking during a broadcast of a Globespan Town Hall panel discussion which also featured political activist, Dr David Hinds and Economist Sase Singh, said if the crafters of Guyana’s Constitution wanted to specify an “absolute” majority, then the Constitution would have said so. However, Panday noted that there is nothing about an “absolute” majority in Guyana’s Constitution.

Former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday

“It seems to me as though a distinction is trying to be made with a provision in Guyana’s Constitution, that all members of Guyana’s Parliament should be present. And they are hanging on to this little thing…“But if the Parliament wanted an absolute as opposed to a simple, it would say so. All it (Constitution) said was, all must be present. But it doesn’t change the balance. It doesn’t say, well it shouldn’t be a simple majority. If they wanted that they would say that,” Panday, an attorney said.

According to Panday, the court had an obligation to interpret what the Constitution says, but noted that there seem to be attempts to avoid the consequences of the Constitution. Moreover, Panday noted that in simple mathematical equations the majority of 65 is 33 as there can be no “half man.”

“Sixty-five divided by two is 32 and a half. I don’t think they (framers of Constitution) intended that you should have 32 and a half man. It’s simple. You can’t have a half man. So a majority of 65 is 33. That’s how I would interpret it,” Panday said.

No mention of absolute majority

Hinds, a Working People’s Alliance (WPA) executive, acknowledged that there is no mention in the Constitution of an “absolute” majority being needed. However, he did note that the Constitution makes a distinction between votes to pass bills and votes for a no-confidence motion.

The political analyst said the Constitution was interpreted and thus, the Judges ruled in accordance with what they thought the Constitution implied. However, both Panday and Singh noted that the Appeals Court Judges are limited in their latitude for interpreting the Constitution. Panday made it clear that it is not open to Judges to rewrite the Constitution.

Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled in a 2:1 split decision that a majority of 34 votes would have been needed to validly pass the No-confidence Motion brought against the Government last year. While Justice Rishi Persaud had dismissed the appeal and conferred with the ruling of the High Court, his colleague Appellate Judges allowed the State’s appeal.

Guyana Court of Appeal

Both Justices Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Dawn Gregory opined that while 33 is the majority of the 65-member National Assembly, the successful passage of a no-confidence motion requires an “absolute” majority of 34, and not the “simple” majority of 33 that has been used to pass ordinary business in the House.

The cases were referred to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and on Friday the court set May 10 as the date for hearing the no-confidence cases. The CCJ had the three cases: Christopher Ram vs. the Attorney General of Guyana, the Leader of the Opposition and Joseph Harmon; Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo vs. the Attorney General of Guyana, Dr Barton Scotland and Joseph Harmon; and Charrandas Persaud vs. Compton Herbert Reid, Dr Barton Scotland, Bharrat Jagdeo and Joseph Harmon; all abridged to save time.

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