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Court of Appeal fixes early date for hearing appeal against appointment of GECOM Commission Chairman

PPP Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha.

The Court of Appeal on Friday fixed an earliest possible date for the hearing of an appeal of a High Court decision that upheld the appointment of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Retired Justice James Patterson.

The appeal would be heard on October 4, 2018, just under one month of Local Government Elections set for November 12.

The request for an early hearing was made the Executive Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), citing the date for local government elections and general elections in another two years.  Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall, who is representing the PPP’s Executive Secretary, Zulfikar Mustapha, and Attorney General, Basil Williams have already signaled that they would appeal the Guyana Court of Appeal decision on the substantive matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Chancellor of the Judiciary, Yonnette Cummings-Edwards urged lawyers for both sides not to deviate from the case management deadlines. “All parties are advised to observe the timelines given in relation to their submissions,” she said.

The panel of judges, which included the Chancellor, agreed with Nandlall’s arguments that the appeal of Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire’s decision was of public importance and should be heard early before Local Government Elections and General Elections constitutionally due by August, 2020 especially since the local appeal decision would be challenged at the CCJ.

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall and Attorney General Basil Williams

“We are of the view that given the pending date for Local Government Elections and given the fact that there are matters which will touch and concern the questions posed on the decision of the Learned Trial Judge, a hearing of the appeal should be conducted in a relatively short space of time,” she said. “This is not to say we are not mindful of other matters that are before us but such matters of national importance have been dealt with before,” Cummings-Edwards added.

Outside the Courtroom,  Attorney General Williams and Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall disagreed that the hearing of the appeal would push back the holding of Local Government Elections.. Nandlall said the local polls could be pushed back to December, but his concern was more about getting the case out of the way ahead of the 2020 general elections. “I am not disappointed. In fact, I am pleased that the court has recognised the importance of the issues which this case deal with and the court has recognised the importance of hearing and determination of the local government elections. The local government elections can always be postponed. It’s not fixed in stone,” Nandlall said.

Though the case would not be heard until three months, Nandlall said one has to consider the fact that the Court of Appeal would be going into recess, “it is a date that you have to accept” or the appeal could have been heard closer to general elections.

Williams said he would argue substantively in the appeal submissions that it would amount to a challenge of the validity of the elections and that any such challenge must be done in the High Court through an elections petition. “We are convinced in our position that elections date has been announced. The elections are afoot and the law tells you quite clearly that the court shouldn’t stop any election by an application made before an election because the volume of money and activities that would have already been spent and undergone- it would be more debilitating than progressive,” Williams said.

The State has hailed the High Court’s decision that President David Granger properly appointed Justice Patterson as GECOM Chairman from the judicial category, having rejected three batches of six names each as nominees for the post.

The Court of Appeal’s case management dates are: the record of appeal must be settled and prepared by August 27; written submissions to be filed and served by September 10; filed and served written submissions by the respondent on or before September 24 and submissions and reply, if necessary, by October 1.