Names cannot be removed from National Register using House to House- Chief Justice rules

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Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George-Wiltshire on Wednesday ruled that the ongoing House to House registration exercise cannot be used to remove persons’ names from the National Register of Registrants.

The Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) creates a new voters list using the National Register.

“Residence requirements from citizens is no longer a qualification for the registration,” the Chief Justice noted, adding that “the right to vote and the right to be registered to vote are sacrosanct.”

The challenge to the House-House registration exercise was filed by Chartered Accountant and Attorney-at-law, Christopher Ram on July 22; he was represented by former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran and others.

While she ruled that the registration exercise is not unconstitutional or unlawful, the Chief Justice in delivering her ruling, noted that persons cannot be removed from the national register.

This, she said, can only be done in accordance with article 159 of the Constitution of Guyana, a position which was welcomed by lawyers representing Ram.

“We won a very important aspect of the case and that is…names cannot be taken off the register merely because they’re not at the address that they’re supposed to be,” Ramkarran told the media following the ruling at the High Court.

The Chief Justice also stated that GECOM should look at other options to verify the current voters list and afford timely elections.

“GECOM cannot operate as if it is in a normal elections cycle,” she said.

The Chief Justice said that GECOM can examine Claims and Objections to update the list and noted that GECOM also has the authority to establish registration office in each district to register persons.

“The court [High Court] pointed out very clearly and emphatically that GECOM must now determine which one of the two courses of action it will choose having regard to the time frames that are available…the court embraced our argument that the list can be refreshed with a suitable claims and objections period,” Nandlall said.

Attorney General Basil Williams

“The ball is now in GECOM’s court to choose which path it will take, one would obviously lead to unconstitutionality,” he added.

Attorney General Basil Williams, who is in support of the registration exercise, also accepted that the decision on the way forward lies with the elections body.

“About the removal of the names from the register, there was no application or any declaration asked by the applicant [so we never had the opportunity to respond] so GECOM will have to look at that,” Williams told the media.

Meanwhile, Ram had also asked the court to order GECOM to begin taking steps for the holding of elections by September 18 but the Chief Justice rejected this application.

The Chief Justice ruled that it is not for the court to make that determination as she continuously alluded to the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice –Guyana’s final appellate court—on June 18 which also stayed away from naming a date or timeline for elections.

The Chief Justice made it clear that a date for elections needs to be done by the political leaders and the responsible agency which is GECOM.

However, she noted that there is also a need to extend the life of the Government since the Constitutional provisions in relation to the passage of a No-Confidence motion was triggered since December 21, 2018.

Nandlall told the media that an appeal will be filed shortly as he does not accept the ruling that the court cannot set a timeline for elections.

“We do not agree that no timeframe has been fixed…it cannot be open-ended. The CCJ judgement could not have meant that elections could not be held unless Parliament agrees, suppose parliament does not agree? There is always a timeframe implied. The constitution must be obeyed at its earliest convenience,” Nandlall told the media.

Ram had also asked the court to issue a declaration that the registration exercise is in violation of the orders issued by the CCJ on July 12.

However, the court found that there is nothing in the Caribbean Court of Justice’s orders of July 12 which says the exercise is unconstitutional.

In fact, the Chief Justice noted that the CCJ orders referred to articles 106 (6) and (7) of the Constitution of Guyana which GECOM has no place in implementing.

Those articles refer to the dissolution of Parliament and the resignation of the President and Cabinet which the Opposition People’s Progressive Party has been calling for.

Costs were awarded in the sum of $500,000 to the Chief Elections Officer, $375,000 to GECOM and $400,000 to the Attorney General.

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