Court of Appeal upholds Chief Justice’s ruling that elections petition lacks merit

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

The Court of Appeal of Guyana on Monday upheld a decision made by acting Chief Justice Roxane George, SC that Election Petition #88 lacks merit.

Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, and Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory-Barnes and Rishi Persaud delivered the unanimous decision this morning.

That election petition was dismissed by Justice George over two years ago.

The main Parliamentary Opposition had appealed Justice George’s ruling in Claudette Thorne and Heston Bostwick v. Keith Lowenfield, arguing that the Guyana Elections Commission’s (GECOM) handling of the March 2, 2020 elections had violated electoral laws and the Constitution of Guyana in serious enough ways that the results of the election should be deemed void.

Petition #88 challenged Recount Order No. 60 of 2020, under which the national recount of all votes cast in the 2020 General and Regional Elections was done.

Following discussions with the previous Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Chairperson, Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, then Leader of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), Dr Bharrat Jagdeo and then President David Granger, Order No. 60 was implemented by GECOM.

After controversy erupted over the declaration made by former Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) Returning Officer (RO) Clairmont Mingo, the Order launched the national recount procedure to resolve difficulties that arose during the tabulation of votes.

Every party listed was in favour of the procedure to break the electoral impasse.

In essence, the Court of Appeal decided that GECOM had the authority to take all necessary actions to address the issues that developed during those elections and guarantee that the results were impartial and provided in a timely manner.

Consequently, the appellate court dismissed Thorne and Bostwick’s appeal. Following the delivery of its decision, the court adjourned for five minutes to deliberate on the issue of costs.

The Chief Justice had made it clear that Article 162 of the Constitution fully empowered GECOM to take whatever actions were necessary to conclude the elections, including the recount.

Justice George had noted that had there been no difficulties with the election, then GECOM’s creation of Order No. 60 would have been illegal.

However, she pointed out that even the election petition highlights the difficulties GECOM faced in arriving at a valid election result. Among her findings was that the petitioners, Bostwick and Thorne, failed to prove their case that there were substantial irregularities.

“Ultimately, despite the reliefs sought, this petition does not rely on the second limb of Article 163 (b) [of the Constitution] and Section 30 of the National Assembly Validity of Elections Act Chapter 104, that there have been unlawful acts or omissions affecting the results. Indeed, evidence that there were unlawful acts that affected or may have affected the result of the election have not been provided in this petition,” Justice George had said.

“To exercise general direction, and supervision over the elections, GECOM had to ensure the lawful and proper implementation of the [Representation of the People Act]. This was done lawfully by GECOM via Order No. 60, enabling it to issue instructions and take action as appeared necessary to resolve the controversies, as part of its [duty] to complete the election process.”

About the Opposition’s second election petition, Petition #99, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) found last year that the Court of Appeal erred when it took jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Petition #99 was based on allegations of several irregularities in the conduct of the elections including: “widespread voter impersonation; widespread noncompliance with documentation; the flawed voters’ list; and several other irregularities”, according to court documents.

The Chief Justice had dismissed that petition on the grounds of improper service to former President David Granger. Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s argument before the CCJ was that having not been determined on its merits, the petition could not be appealed.

The ruling by the Trinidad-based court effectively meant that the Court of Appeal’s decision was quashed, effectively restoring Justice George’s January 18, 2021 ruling; and that the petitioners Monica Thomas and Brennan Nurse had exhausted all their rights to appeal.