Chief Justice expects ‘full-blown trial’ for election petition; resists requests to hear petitions separately
By Kurt Campbell
In a case management conference on Thursday, Guyana’s High Court, headed by Chief Justice (acting) Roxane George, noted the Court’s intention to engage in a “full-blown trial” of at least one of the two elections petitions filed by the opposition APNU+AFC Coalition.
While a date for the commencement of trial was not set at Thursday’s case management conference, the Court will meet again on November 24, 2020, to hear an application on behalf of the 4th respondent and again on November 26 and 30 to hear brief oral submissions in an application to be filed by Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo’s Attorney Douglas Mendes.
The Trinidadian Senior Counsel is contending that Jagdeo, who is named as a respondent, was not properly served the petitions.
He said the Court has to be satisfied that sufficient actions were taken to serve the respondent.
Mendes said this was not done and Jagdeo was not served making the entire petition a nullity.
There was also an observation by the Chief Justice that former President David Granger was served late. Granger was served on September 25 although he should have been served five business days after the petition was filed on September 15.
During the almost two-hour virtual conference, parties to the proceedings were told that all applications to the Court must be filed and served by November 20, 2020 while applications for elections documents must be filed on or before December 4, 2020.
Observing that there is already a voluminous number of documents in exhibits, the Chief Justice urged respondents not to provide documents that are already before the Court.
On the issues of requesting documents from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Justice George said in her view, parties in the proceeding cannot object to an application for the production or inspection of elections documents.
The APNU+AFC filed its first elections petition (88/20-P) on August 31, 2020, officially challenging the outcome of the March 02, 2020 elections and the recount exercise from which the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) emerged victorious.
A second petition (99/20-P) was field subsequently on September 15, 2020 also challenging the March 02, 2020 elections.
In a synopsis on Petition 88 of 2020, Forde told the Court that the APNU+AFC was challenging the legitimacy of the elections report which allowed for Dr. Irfaan Ali to be sworn in as President.
He said his team intends to call no witness. He explained that there was no need to lead evidence because the defense will be relying on affidavits and exhibits on file which include the Observation Reports from the recount exercise.
Meanwhile, much to the Chief Justice’s disappointment, Attorney Mayo Robertson could not give a precise number of witnesses the defense intends to call for petition 99 of 2020.
Justice George said she was surprised that the defense could not give a number on the witnesses to be called when the petition was filed over a month ago and a notice of this Case Management was given since last week.
The Chief Justice said one can expect a “full-blown” trial with witnesses appearing and being put under cross-examination.
The Chief Justice used the opportunity to put respondents on notice that if they do not oppose the petition then they will not be allowed to be a party to the proceedings.
She made the observation in response to a relief being sought in both petitions for the Court to order the Chairman of GECOM to declare former President David Granger to be duly elected.
In flagging the issue, she said respondents should have an interest that conflicts with the petition and questioned whether in this instance, Mr. Granger –a respondent –could have any conflicting interest.
Justice George also resisted requests by Counsel for the two petitions to be heard separately, pointing out that both petitions ask for the same relief.
“It’s the same destination and we are asking that we take separate routes to get to the same destination,” she said.
The Attorneys appearing on behalf of the defendant on the first petition (88/20-P) are Trinidad Senior Counsel John Jeremie, Senior Counsel Roysdale Forde, Raphael Trotman and Olayne Joseph.
Senior Counsel Rex McKay, Darren Wade, Mayo Roberson, Khemraj Ramjattan, Gary Best and Geeta Chandan Edmond are appearing for the defendant in the second petition (99/20-P).
Former Attorney General Basil Williams appeared on behalf of former President David Granger and the APNU+AFC Coalition.
GECOM Commissioner Sase Gunraj told the Court that the Commission has not retained Counsel but said it intends to defend itself during the proceedings.
Devindra Kissoon, Sanjeev Datadin and Douglas Mendes along with others have appeared for on behalf of Bharrat Jagdeo as representative for the governing People’s Progressive Party.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall had asked to join both petitions, a request that was acceded to by the Chief Justice who noted that according to the Constitution, the AG is entitled to intervene.
The petitioners are Claudette Thorne and Heston Bostwick, both residents of Georgetown.
Ultimately, the Coalition wants the Supreme Court, after hearing its petition, to cancel the March 02 polls, which saw it losing the seat of Government, and order fresh polls within 90 days.
If they succeed in their case, the petitioners are seeking orders from the court to declare that elections were so badly held that the results from it cannot be deemed to be the will of the people. At the same time, they want the Court to have David Granger declared as President under those very elections they claim were conducted against the electoral laws and constitution of the country.
The petitioners contend that the Chief Elections Officer was not required to use the data from the national vote recount to produce his elections report from which the results were declared.