Judge weighs full trial of Oil Fund law

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At an emergency hearing held on Wednesday in the case that challenges the lawful passage of the Natural Resource Fund Act, High Court Judge, Navindra Singh, said he was considering the possibility of having a full-blown trial after a “serious allegation” made by the applicants has now put the facts in dispute.

During the first hearing of the case on May 13, Justice Singh had said then that the facts of the matter were not in dispute and he went ahead to set timelines for the filing of submissions and replies with oral presentations for September 12.

But at the emergency hearing on Wednesday, Justice Singh explained that when he read the affidavit submitted by Roysdale Forde, SC, on behalf of Opposition Chief Whip Christopher Jones and Trade Unionist Norris Witter, he came across a serious allegation in paragraphs 32 and 42.

The claim is that the legislation could not be considered to be lawfully passed because, among other things, the Opposition Members of Parliament were deprived of an opportunity to participate in the debate and subsequently, the Bill’s passage.

Jones and Witter claimed in their submissions to the court that the sitting of the National Assembly on December 29, 2021, was not conducted in accordance with the Standing Order and to some extent, the Constitution of Guyana.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, disagreed with this claim and proffered reasons similarly submitted by Clerk of the National Assembly, Sherlock Isaacs and Speaker Manzoor Nadir that the Opposition MPs chose not to participate in the debate and instead engaged in a ruckus in the House.

Nandlall argued that nothing prevented the Opposition MPs from participating except their own actions.

“That is a preposterous statement of what transpired,” Nandlall told the News Room outside the courtroom following the emergency hearing.

But during the hearing, Forde told the Court that although some Opposition MPs were misbehaving, there were others who were slated to speak in the debate that did not leave their seats and were awaiting an opportunity to contribute to the debate.

Nandlall said there is recorded evidence submitted to the Court which would prove that it was the parliamentary opposition that disrupted the sitting but, in any event, he maintained that the Bill was lawfully passed.

Justice Singh said he intends to stick to the September hearing for oral presentations and said even if a trial is to be held, it will not delay the case – a case he considers to be of national importance.

New timelines were set on Wednesday where Forde will go ahead and file an affidavit in reply to submissions made by June 13. After that, Justice Singh has asked that all parties sit together and draft a joint statement on agreeing facts and disputes which will be submitted to him by July 07 after which there will be a hearing on July 15 at 10:00hrs.

It is at that hearing that the Judge will decide whether a trial is needed or even a hearing for Counsel to orally ventilate their points on the disputed facts.

The APNU+AFC Coalition Opposition had promised this legal challenge after failing to prevent a simple majority vote needed for passage of the law on the night of December 29, claiming also that there was no prior consultation and the mace was not in the House during the vote.

Nandlall maintained that the case is an abuse of the process of the court, that the challenge is without basis and it should be dismissed.

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