CCJ hears Guyana’s presidential term-limit case
The legal battle has begun before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as attorneys debate the constitutionality of the presidential term-limit under Article 90 of the Constitution of Guyana.
The case stemmed from an appeal filed by Guyana’s Attorney General, Basil Williams, S.C and former Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman, challenging the decision of the Court of Appeal to uphold the ruling of the then Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang that the 2001 amendment to Article 90 was unconstitutional.
Williams, who led the legal team representing the State, argued before the CCJ in Trinidad and Tobago today that the amendment to Article 90 was validly passed.
“Those provisions were passed unanimously. The Act was assented to by then President Jagdeo who is the object of this appeal in terms of the only person re-elected twice,” Williams told the CCJ.
The Attorney General was asked by CCJ President, Justice Denis Byron, to meet with the lawyers of Cedric Richardson – the man challenging the constitutionality of the term-limit – to submit documents about the origin of the amendment to the Constitution of Guyana.
Guyana’s Solicitor General Kim Kyte, in a subsequent presentation, advanced the argument of “delay”, contending that there has been no challenge since the amendment was made and therefore it can be assumed that the changes were accepted.
However, Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes – who is leading the legal team representing Richardson – countered that “the passage of time does not purify a law that is unconstitutional.”
Mendes, who is said to be one of the best constitutional lawyers in the West Indies, added that “delay cannot constitutionalise a void act.”
The learned attorney further contended that to raise the point of “delay” now – when the issue was not brought up during the proceedings in Guyana at the High Court and Court of Appeal– “is wrong, it is wrong and unfair and it is contrary to the rule of law.”
Focusing on the basis of the constitutional challenge, Mendes argued that the limit of choice of the presidential candidate infringes on the sovereignty of the people which is guaranteed under Articles 1 and 9 of the Constitution.
“Sovereignty of the people is undermined as you begin to limit the persons they can choose as their representatives…That right is infringed when you add a disqualification,” he stated.
In 2015, then Chief Justice Chang ruled that the presidential term-limit was unconstitutional on several grounds. Richardson, a private citizen of Laing Avenue, filed the constitutional motion months before the 2015 General Elections.
Attorney General and former Speaker Trotman appealed the ruling at the Appeal Court of Guyana and in 2017, the Court upheld the ruling of Justice Chang.
The matter was then taken to the CCJ.
Richardson had challenged the amendments made to Article 90 of the Constitution that were enacted in 2001 following a bipartisan Constitutional Reform Process. Justice Chang had ruled, among other things, that the term-limit was unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum.
Article 90 states that, “a person elected as President after the year 2000 is eligible for re-election only once.”
But Richardson contended that the term limit infringes on Articles 1 and 9 of the constitution, wherein Article 1 states that “Guyana is an indivisible, secular, democratic, sovereign state in the course of transition from capitalism to socialism and shall be known as the Co-operative Republic of Guyana” and Article 9, states that “Sovereignty belongs to the people, who exercise it through their representatives and the democratic organs established by or under this constitution.”