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Court of Appeal rules no-confidence motion was not validly passed with 33 votes

Inside the Court of Appeal’s courtroom

Guyana’s Court of Appeal by a majority on Friday struck down Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire’s decision that the no-confidence motion was validly passed by 33 to 32 votes, instead ruling that an “absolute majority” of 34 votes was required to pass a no-confidence motion.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo’s Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall said, based on the Court of Appeal’s decision the no-confidence motion was not validly passed last year December, but he would be appealing to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on that single point.

Asked what was the effect of the Court of Appeal’s decision, Nandlall stopped short of openly conceding that the government was legally in office. “The effect of the decision… as I understand it is that the no-confidence motion was not validly passed so we have to see how that unfolds and what are the consequences of that, having regard to the current context where the President has already indicated a timeframe for elections,” he said. “The decision of the court is that the no-confidence vote was not passed by the majority that was required for it to be passed and everything that flows from that,” he said.
Nandlall, said “understandably I’m disappointed” that by a majority of 2-1 the Court of Appeal found that an absolute majority of 34 seats were required to pass the motion. He added that he never subscribed to the concept of absolute majority because it is not stated in Guyana’s constitution. He said “a majority of all members of the National Assembly when the whole is 65 continues to be 33.”
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams said the Court of Appeal’s overturning of the High Court’s decision that the motion had been validly passed 33-32 means that the government is legally in office. “The ruling of the court today is ‘business as usual for the government'”, Williams said.
Williams declined to say whether General and Regional Elections would now be put on the back-burner, saying that was a matter for President David Granger and his colleagues.

Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards said the Chief Justice’s calculation of 33 votes was for a “simple majority”.

Justice Dawn Gregory explained 34 votes were required after rounding up 32.5 to 33 and adding another vote to acquire an absolute majority of 34. She said using 33 votes was “flawed and untenable and is not the absolute majority”.

Dissenting was Justice of Appeal Rishi Persaud, who in upholding the Chief Justice’s ruling, said the no-confidence motion was validly passed by 33 to 32 votes.

He said, with the greatest of respect to Caribbean constitutional expert, Queen’s Counsel Dr Francis Alexis, his argument that the no-confidence motion could only have been passed by rounding up 32.5 (half of the 65 seats) “does not accord with logic or commonsense” unless there is a stated formula.

Justice Persaud also rejected arguments that Article 70 of the Constitution of Guyana guarantees a five-year term, because other provisions provide for a proclamation and unless sooner dissolved.

He agreed with the Chief Justice that the President, as Chairman of the Cabinet, and Cabinet stand automatically resigned immediately after the passage of a no-confidence motion. Justice Persaud agreed that the President and government remain in office and prepare for elections.

“Notwithstanding the automatic resignation, the government shall remain in office to hold elections within a specified timeframe,” he noted.

Justice Persaud, however, refused an application by Christopher Ram for an election date to be named.

As regards the Canadian citizenship of then government parliamentarian Charrandass Persaud, whose vote had allowed for last December’s passage of the no-confidence motion, the Justice of Appeal agreed that there was no evidence to prove that Persaud had known that he had been ineligible to be a parliamentarian. “To ascribe such knowledge to Mr. Persaud is far-fetched to my mind,” he said.

Justice Gregory upheld the Chief Justice’s decision that Persaud’s vote was valid although he is a dual citizen. On the issue of whether Persaud ought not to have voted against the list, the Justice of Appeal said the Constitution allows for voting against the list under certain circumstances.

“My finding is that his vote was valid and effective and was the thirty-third of the votes cast for the motion,” Justice Gregory said.