Prosecution continues to press for expeditious trial of election fraud cases
The special team of prosecutors in the election fraud cases continue to insist that the matters could be dealt with expeditiously in the Magistrates’ Court instead of being dragged out in a Preliminary Inquiry and then a High Court trial where the issue of a fair trial would have to be argued.
The cases are contentious and have occupied the attention of the public after a vote recount of the March 2020 election proved that there was a clear intention at rigging by senior elections officials to keep David Granger and his APNU+AFC Coalition in power, thereby defrauding voters.
Queens Counsel and lead prosecutor Darshan Ramdhani was on Saturday forced to give a public statement on the reasons he has put forward for the cases to be determined by Magistrates and not at the High Court before a judge and jury.
One, he said, is the fact that the cases are all indictable, and the penalty – a maximum of one-year imprisonment on each charge – is the same whether the case is determined in the Magistrates’ Court or the High Court. And so, he contended it would be better not to waste the Courts’ and the people’s resources in having a lengthy Preliminary Inquiry and then a High Court trial when the case could be tried summarily by the Magistrate and be done with.
He argued that if the penalty were life imprisonment, then the case could have been made for a High Court trial. But since this is not the case, a Magistrate can expedite the matters and bring them to an end instead of letting them languish for years.
His second argument is that with the polarised nature of Guyanese politics, where votes are split almost evenly along party lines that attract followers from either of the country’s two main ethnic groups, the question of whether a fair trial could be had would have to be an argument if the matters go to the High Court.
His concern is that it would be difficult to find a jury pool that could “dispassionately” look at the cases before them while disabusing their minds of any bias. He said it would be best that that issue not have to be dealt with.
Ramdhani was quick to note that he is not saying that one cannot get a fair trial in the High Court, but if the matter does reach the High Court, the trial judge will have to consider whether a juror can be unbiased.
“Why do we want to put ourselves there?” he asked, when one, a “legally trained judicial officer, a Magistrate” can deal with the matter.
He said that any attempt to misconstrue his statement would be “mischievous.”
“I am a professional,” Ramdhani declared and said that in these matters, all relevant factors must be brought to the fore.
The prosecution team has been compiling evidence for their case. It included hiring accounting experts to go through the original Statements of Poll which showed the election results and the Statements of Recount.
The prosecution has also compiled video evidence and taken statements from several witnesses.
Those hearing the cases are Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan, Principal Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus, and Senior Magistrate Leron Daly who all preside at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court.
The Chief Magistrate has already decided she will hear and determine the cases before her. Magistrate Daly decided that she will go the way of a Preliminary Inquiry to determine if the matter could stand ground and be committed to the High Court. Her decision was challenged but the High Court Judge Franklin Holder ruled that she was correct in her decision on how to proceed with the matter. Justice Holder’s decision is now a subject of an appeal. Meanwhile, Magistrate Isaacs-Marcus is still to decide how she will proceed.
The Magistrates dealing with the cases will call further hearings in February and March next year.
Director of Public Prosecutions Shalimar Ali-Hack, S.C had granted a fiat to a six-member team of prominent lawyers to prosecute the matters on behalf of the State.
They include Ramdhani, Glenn Hanoman, Mark Conway, Ganesh Hira, Arudranauth Gossai, and George Thomas.
Those before the courts on several chargers relating to electoral fraud are former Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, his Deputy Roxane Myers, Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, outgoing Chairman of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNC/R) Volda Lawrence, APNU+AFC member Carol Smith-Joseph, Registration Clerks Shefern February, Michelle Miller, Denise Babb–Cummings and Information Technology Officer Enrique Livan.
Lawrence’s signature appeared on the fraudulent declaration of March 05, 2020, which Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo used to declare the fraudulent results of Region Four.
Lawrence, who is slapped with two charges of conspiracy to defraud, is facing an additional forgery charge.
Lowenfield is currently before the court with three counts of Misconduct in Public Office, and three counts of Forgery.
Myers faces two charges of Misconduct in Public Office. Mingo is currently charged with four counts of Misconduct in Public Office.