UPDATE: Sovereignty of the people case: CCJ overturns Guyana’s Court of Appeal ruling

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The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Tuesday morning ruled 6-1 in the Attorney General of Guyana v Cedric Richardson case effectively overturning Guyana’s Court of Appeal’s decision.

Outgoing CCJ President, Sir Dennis Byron

That decision held that an Act passed by the government to amended Article 90 of the Constitution by introducing new criteria for eligibility to run for the office of President of the Republic, indirectly breached Articles 1 and 9 of the Constitution.

Those articles give the electorate of Guyana the right to elect a President of their choice.

Guyana’s Court of Appeal ruled in February 2017 that the constitutional amendments by Parliament to limit the number of times a person could serve as President were unconstitutional.

During that February decision, then acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh, was supported by Justice of Appeal BS Roy in upholding then acting Chief Justice Ian Chang’s decision that the amendments were unconstitutional.

The decision which the Appellate Justices upheld signalled that an amendment to the Constitution on presidential term limits, which was enacted when the National Assembly altered Article 90 via a two-thirds vote in 2000, needs a referendum to make a final decision.

Attorney General Basil Williams had appealed the Appeal Court’s landmark ruling in February 2017 that declared that sovereignty resides in the people and not in the Parliament; and as such, certain fundamental clauses in the Constitution that serve to define its substantive nature can be altered only by a referendum of the people.

AG Williams and his colleague, Raphael Trotman, challenged the ruling in the CCJ.

All seven judges of the CCJ heard the appeal. The majority decision was delivered by separate judgments from the Sir Byron, the Court’s President, Justice Adrian Saunders and Justice Jacob Wit.

Justice Winston Anderson offered a dissenting judgment.

According to the CCJ in its ruling “the majority’s view was that Articles 1 and 9 did not confer on citizens an unlimited right to choose the head of state.”

The CCJ also stated that new qualifications can be introduced by valid constitutional amendments and that the National Assembly had the power to amend the Constitution by a vote of at least two thirds of all members of the Assembly, without holding a referendum.

However, Justice Winston Anderson, in his dissent, “agreed with the Court of Appeal of Guyana that the amendment was unconstitutional because it resulted in the exclusion of probably thousands of otherwise eligible Guyanese citizens from being elected as President, without seeking the approval of the people by referendum. He considered that this was an unacceptable constraint on the sovereignty of the people of Guyana to choose their President as provided for in Articles 1 and 9.”

Meanwhile, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) General Secretary (GS), Dr Bharrat Jagdeo on Saturday said that regardless of the outcome, he will remain actively involved in the party’s leadership.

The outcome of this matter was said to be a deciding factor as to whether Jagdeo will be the PPP/C’s presidential candidate in the 2020 General Elections. Jagdeo was previously elected President in 2001 and 2006.

Jagdeo, in a statement, attributed his remarks to the outpouring from the multitudes of supporters of the PPP/C and “even across the political divide” who he said made contact with him.

He outlined that many concerns were raised, including the public statements of those in Government in respect of a particular outcome.

As such, Jagdeo posited that he will “continue to spearhead the Party’s struggle for a better life for all Guyanese, especially the working people, the poor and the under-privileged, for racial and national unity and for victory at the polls at the next Local Government, Regional and National Elections.”

Moreover, he noted that “unlike the 2011-2015 period, where I played no formal part in the PPP Administration, I intend to be a formal part of the next PPP government as we resume the implementation of plans to build a better country of which all our people can feel proud.”

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