Presidential term limit unconstitutional: Court of Appeal upholds Justice Chang’s decision 2 to 1

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The Guyana Court of Appeal during a ruling today upheld the decision of former Chief Justice Ian Chang that the presidential term limit was unconstitutional.

Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh and Justice of Appeal BS Roy upheld Justice Ian Chang’s decision that the presidential term limit was not lawful since sovereignty resides in the people and not in the Parliament as it does in Britain; and as such, certain fundamental clauses in the Constitution that serve to define its substantive nature, can only be altered by a referendum of the people.

However, acting Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards dissented.

Cummings-Edwards in articulating her dissension noted that the amendment to Article 90 by Act No. 17 of 2001 was not unconstitutional. She said that “The people of Guyana in whom sovereignty lies exercise their sovereignty through representatives of Parliament and Local Democratic organs.”

Justice Chang’s ruling was appealed by then Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman and current Attorney General Basil Williams. The constitutional challenge case was led by Georgetown resident Cedric Richardson in February 2015, and sought the court’s interpretation on the National Assembly’s changes to Article 90 as it related to four restraints on the freedom of choice by citizens at national elections.

Justice Chang, had outlined that the “purported alteration of Article 90 by Act No. 17 of 2001, in substance and effect, undoubtedly diminishes the democratic rights of the electorate in electing a person of their own choice as President, by excluding from Presidential candidature:

(1) Citizens of Guyana not resident in Guyana on Nomination Day

(2) Citizens of Guyana resident in Guyana on Nomination Day but who have not been continuously resident in Guyana for seven years prior to that date

(3) Citizens of Guyana by registration

(4) Citizens of Guyana who have served for two terms as President.

The case, which was /led by Attorneys Emily Dodson and Shawn Allicock, on behalf of Richardson, argued that Act 17 of 2001, which was passed by a two-third majority in the National Assembly, unconstitutionally curtails and restricts his sovereign and democratic rights and freedom as a qualified elector to elect specific persons of their choice as President of Guyana.

Richardson had contended that the limit was unconstitutional and illegal. He sought the court’s interpretation to determine whether the amendment with referendum should not have been held, instead of the two-third majority in the National Assembly having the powers to decide to limit the number of terms.

The Court of Appeal ruling will more than likely be appealed by the State, with the Attorney General Basil Williams, SC already signaling his intent to do so to the online media.

 

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