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President obliged to assent Bills, only court decides constitutionality- Senior Counsel

Senior Counsel Brynmor Pollard perusing the Constitution of Guyana in the Parliament Library on Wednesday during an interview with Demerara Waves Online News and Insight Magazine

Senior Counsel Brynmor Pollard on Wednesday said the President was obliged to assent to Bills passed by the National Assembly and it is only the Court could decide if they were unconstitutional.

Speaking with reporters, Pollard argued that the Attorney General was not the custodian of Guyana’s Constitution but the Court which must decide on constitutionality.

He said even if an approved Bill was perceived prior to assent to be in contravention of a Fundamental Right of the Constitution, only the court could decide on the basis of someone mounting a legal challenge. “He has no choice. It is not for him to declare law unconstitutional. It is for the Court to do that,” he said.

Pollard recalled that since Independence, if a Bill is in violation of the Constitution, it is left to the Supreme Court of Judicature to decide. e,” He said the President had “no choice“.

Pollard stated that the Attorney General would be “wrong” to advise the President not to sign the Bills.

Pollard took issue with Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s granting of an Assent Certificate, saying that was no longer applicable since Guyana attained independence from Britain in 1966. Pollard recalled that the Assent Certificate was only applicable in then British Guiana because the Crown had the power of disallowance of all laws prior to internal self government and after in keeping with its reserve powers on matters of Defence and Foreign Relations. “With Independence, all of that went. Therefore, the Assent Certificate which used to be prepared by the Attorney General is no longer a legal necessity. It is just probably more caution to assure the president that it is alright for him to assent the Bill,” he said.

Pressed on whether government should allow an unconstitutional Bill to be signed into law, Pollard countered by asking: “Who decides it’s unconstitutional if a court has not ruled that it is unconstitutional?” He insisted that it was not for the Attorney General to decide whether a piece of legislation was unconstitutional and so block its assent. “The Attorney General is not the guardian of the Constitution. The Court is because for the simple reason because a law sponsored by the government, drafted by the Attorney General could be struck down by the Court,” said Pollard.

Pollard’s comments came against the background of threats by A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) not to vote for government-sponsored Bills unless opposition-approved Bills were signed into law by President Donald Ramotar.

The Guyanese leader has refused to assent to the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2012; Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Bill, 2013; Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2013 and Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2012, saying that they were unconstitutional. The Bills, accompanied by explanations for non-assent, have been sent back to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman.

Opposition Leader David Granger has said that he would be willing to meet with President Ramotar to agree to take the necessary steps to have the bills returned to the House with a guarantee that they would get government’s support to ensure that at least two-thirds of the 65 MPs vote for them.