New GECOM chair was at centre of disgraceful trial of ‘Grenada 17’ – GHRA

Human rights watchdog questions whether Patterson is ‘fit and proper’

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The country’s human rights watchdog has questioned whether Justice James Patterson is “fit and proper” to head the elections body given that he was at the centre of the “disgraceful” trial of the Grenada 17.

Following a coup in Grenada in March 1979, the Grenada constitution was suspended by the People’s Revolutionary Government and a new court system was established, comprising the Grenada High Court and the Court of Appeal, which remained in place until 1991 when Grenada returned to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.

In a statement, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) noted that the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 led to a trial of the surviving seventeen alleged ring-leaders – known as the Grenada 17. They were all sentenced to death but later had their sentences commuted.

Justice Patterson has stated that he was “invited” to be a member of the Judiciary in Grenada in 1983 and did so in April of that year. According to the GHRA, the trial was held by a group of attorneys and judges appointed and paid for by the United States, according to a sworn Affidavit of Ramsey Clark, the former US Attorney-General.

The manner in which all aspects of the trials was dominated by the US administration generated widespread international condemnation, GHRA stated. It said that according to Mr Clark, the trial was not presided over by any constitutional court or other tribunals of the island of Grenada.

Following the trials, all records were removed to the United States and access to them has been extremely difficult ever since.

“Among the judges associated with this infamous period of Caribbean history was Justice James Patterson, the newly appointed Guyana Elections Commissioner.

“Along with the other judges who participated in this disreputable charade, Justice Patterson found no fault with the serious defilement of commonly accepted notions of due process of law,” the GHRA declared.

The Association said the human rights dimensions “of this disgraceful episode counted for nothing for the main judicial actors, one of whom is now elevated to one of the most sensitive posts in the political administration of Guyana.”

The GHRA pointed out that national elections in Guyana are the subject of intense interest and require frequent interaction between the Commissioner, contending parties and the diplomatic community.

Quoting references from the sworn Affidavit of Ramsey Clark together with the writings of US-based academic, Dr. Richard Gibson, the GHRA suggested that “when confronted with the interests of a foreign power Justice Patterson could not be relied on to keep his own counsel or maintain the impartiality or discretion required in a Chairman of GECOM.”

The GHRA stated: “Within the general context of Justice Patterson’s suitability for the GECOM post and in light of the foregoing an additional question must inevitably arise.

“Is a person who has never disassociated himself from being at the centre of an episode which tarnished the reputation of the Caribbean judicial community for a generation a ‘fit and proper’ person to be Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission?”

Apart from his sudden and unilateral appointment, Justice Patterson’s appointment was also mired in controversy when it emerged he had omitted to mention he was “acting” Chief Justice of Grenada in 1987, rather than the substantive Chief Justice as stated in the CV he submitted to the President.

Justice Patterson would have served as acting Chief Justice under the unconstitutional court in Grenada in 1987, as far as records go. Justice Patterson was sworn in minus pomp and ceremony on October 19, 2017, by President David Granger at State House.

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