Chief Justice promises swift hearing of High Court orders for GECOM to verify votes before declaring results

Last Updated on Saturday, 7 March 2020, 13:21 by Writer

Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire on Saturday, in an emergency High Court hearing, promised to swiftly consider a request by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to throw out orders for it to verify Region Four results before making a declaration.

“I will try to work as assiduously as possible…because, as you know, the nation awaits,” she said, even as she urged lawyers to cooperate.

The several interrelated orders were issued by Justice Navindra Singh on Thursday, minutes after the Region Four Returning Officer, Clairmont Mingo declared the results.

Despite repeated efforts, High Court Marshalls could not locate Mingo, Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield and GECOM Chairman, Retired Justice Claudette Singh to serve them the orders. Only the six commissioners were served.

Inside the Chief Justice’s courtroom on Saturday, GECOM’s lawyer, Neil Boston said he would contend that the court has no jurisdiction to issue the orders and they should be quashed.

Speaking with reporters moments after the sitting was adjourned until 1:30pm, Boston said a challenge to the results could only be made through an Elections Petition after the results are declared. “If Mr (Anil) Nandlall, as they are arguing (for the PPP) that the election has not been lawfully conducted or there is some specific illegality, which affects the result or the outcome, those are issues to be raised in an election petition and not by way of judicial review,” Boston said.

Although the full general and regional election results have not been declared by GECOM and the election was still in process, Boston said the process could not be challenged before completion. “The election is still in process so if the election is in process, you can’t come with an intermediate action to challenge it. There is not a two-step stage, it’s only one and that stage is only after the results have been declared then the issue of an election petition,” said Boston who has fought a number of major election and politically-related cases.

Nandlall and his colleague candidate and Attorney-at-Law for the People’s Progressive Party Sanjeev Datadin, however, countered that the election process could be challenged outside of an Election Petition before the full and final results are declared. “Why should the law allow or the judiciary allow an entire government to be stolen and then grant redress? That’s the counter to that argument. Is the law so asinine that it will stand idly by and allow a clear illegality to take place and allow a completely illegal government to be installed and then step in to remove that government?” he said.

Nandlall said the elections have not been completed and the results have not been declared.

Datadin added that there is sufficient case law to allow for aspects of the incomplete elections to be challenged before. “We think the Court has jurisdiction because there is case law from this country where courts have taken jurisdiction before,” he said.

The PPP has hired Trinidad and Tobago Attorney-at-Law, Douglas Mendes to help fight its case. Mendes has successfully come up against Boston and others at the Caribbean Court of Justice which validated the no-confidence motion last year July.

The Guyana Constitution makes special provision for the declaration of results of the election of the President, the meeting — if on the first day does not have a quorum — shall be adjourned to the following day and notices sent to the absent members. If on the following day, there are four election commissioners, including the Chairman, any decision taken is final and binding in law.

Saturday’s sitting of the High Court is being held under tight security with police barricades at all streets around the colonial wooden building. Riot squad police are on standby in a 36-seater bus. Republic Bank and Scotiabank branches in Georgetown have been boarded up to guard against damage by protesters should the situation deteriorate.