The High Court ruling on the validity of President David Granger’s criteria for selecting a Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman has been deferred until July 17, with the legal teams expected to make further submissions over the next few days.
The case was called before Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George on Tuesday, with submissions from a representative of the State; the plaintiff, businessman Marcel Gaskin’s attorney, Glenn Hanoman, and Guyana Bar Association representative, Attorney-at-Law Teni Housty.
The adjournment did not come, however, without spirited arguments from the State counsel and Gaskin’s legal representative. At one point, the State’s counsel was forced to withdraw a section of its written submission after the acting Chief Justice noted its contradictory arguments.
Hanoman expressed worry that the President’s continued disregard of lists of nominees, which were arrived at from a consultative process with stakeholders, was eroding the Constitution. He argued that if indeed the President found the list unacceptable, he should give objective and reasonable explanations for why each person was rejected.
The Attorney referenced a prior case to make the point that it was also not up to the President to determine fit and proper and that the Opposition Leader, having conducted consultations with stakeholders, had arrived at the best possible ‘fit and proper’ list.
However, the State’s counsel argued that the President did have the prerogative to use his discretion in the matter, as laid out in the Constitution. Citing an example of a list with five ‘fit and proper’ persons out of six nominees, the acting Chief Justice queried the merits of simply choosing one from the five in the interest of a timely and straightforward selection process.
It was noted that by the President’s own criteria, the majority of those nominated in the second list were qualified to be Judges, thus rendering the list acceptable. However, the State’s counsel reiterated that determining the acceptability of the list remained the President’s prerogative.
In addition, she argued that the list must be deemed acceptable in its entirety. And in rebutting a previous case cited to dispute the broad discretionary clout of the President, the State counsel argued that the powers of the President of Trinidad differed from those of the President of Guyana.
But when State Counsel also complained about the President being subject to litigation due to his decision, the acting Chief Justice intervened, reminding her that he was in fact not before the court.
During the arguments, the idea of a substitute list was raised as a possible solution to the impasse. Hanoman floated the idea of names being gleaned from each of the two lists and combined to form a final list. However, arguments about the subjectivity of such an exercise came up.
Gaskin, a businessman and engineer, had moved to the High Court in March of this year to challenge the constitutionality of President Granger’s reasoning behind his rejection of Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo’s list of six nominees.
Gaskin, also the brother of Business Minister Dominic Gaskin, had wanted the court to determine whether Jagdeo’s list of nominees was indeed not “fit and proper” as declared by President Granger.
Granger has maintained that the list of nominees must include a judge, a retired judge or a person qualified to be a judge. On the other hand, Jagdeo has argued that the nominees do not have to be a judge-type as the Constitution makes provision for another group of persons under the category of “fit and proper”.
The former GECOM Chairman, Dr Steve Surujbally was not a judge or qualified to be a judge and neither were most of the past chairpersons. Granger had also accepted the nomination to serve as GECOM Chairman several years ago. (Jarryl Bryan)