State loses appeal to have persons overseas removed from voters list

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The Court of Appeal on Monday upheld an August 2019 High Court decision that there can be no residency requirement for persons to vote.

Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards in her ruling on Monday said the residency requirements for voting are already outlined in the laws of Guyana since a person proves their residency when they are registered.

As such, she said, “we are of the considered view therefore that the right to vote well established should not be curtailed.”

The Constitution of Guyana provided for persons to be placed on the National Register of Registrants at the age of 18 when they are eligible to vote. To be registered, those persons have to be at their place of residence in Guyana but their names cannot ever be removed from the register unless they are found to be insane or if he/she was convicted of any offence concerned with elections five years preceding that date.

Attorney General, Basil Williams argued that Section 2(f) of the Constitution (Amendment) (No 4) Act 1991 (Act No 36 of 1991), reinstituted the residency requirement for voting.

Attorney General Basil Williams

However, the Appeal Court judge said that provision was made for that period for the 1992 elections.

As such, she agreed with the August 14, 2019 ruling by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George-Wiltshire that persons’ names cannot be removed from the National Register of Registrants if they are residing overseas. The CJ made this assertion in her ruling on a challenge to the 2019 House-House registration exercise was filed by Chartered Accountant and Attorney-at-law, Christopher Ram.

Justice Cummings-Edwards on Monday afternoon said, “there is no need to introduce another requirement for residency when residency was [already] included in the law as a way to be registered to the national register…the process starts out with the registration and once the provisions there are upheld, then there is no need to add another.”

“A citizen then of a country must carry some privilege and voting seems to be one such privilege to being a citizen…” she added.

Justice Cummings-Edwards pointed out that the law allows for Ambassadors and their families to vote overseas.

She noted that to impose additional qualifications for non-resident voting will also bring about questions on what determines non-residency in relation to persons who are overseas for work and study and others who are preparing to come back home.

“This is a significant victory in think for democracy, for constitutionality and for the rights and freedoms of the electorate of our country,” Attorney-at-law Anil Nandlall, the Lawyer representing Chris Ram, said.

Attorney Anil Nandlall

However, the Attorney General then told the media that he will take the matter to the Caribbean Court of Justice. “I am not disappointed,” he said adding that “the highest court is the CCJ and we will go to the CCJ.”

The other appeal judges were Rishi Persaud and Dawn Gregory-Barnes.

 

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