Election fraud case Magistrate now refers request for GECOM’s minutes to High Court

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

…prosecution says minutes sought by defence of no benefit to case

Magistrate Leron Daly, who is presiding over the 2020 election fraud case, has referred a request from the defence team for Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) minutes, to the High Court in light of “constitutional considerations”.

The minutes sought by Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes pertain to those taken before, during and after the tabulation process that followed the 2020 General and Regional Election at Ashmin’s Building. The request had been communicated to the prosecution last week and on Monday, when the hearing was supposed to start, made known to the wider public.

When the matter came up before Daly again on Wednesday, she referred the matter to the High Court to determine whether Section 140 (2) of the Representation of the People Act (ROPA) clashed with constitutional considerations pertaining to the right to a fair trial and the disclosure of the documents, which are in GECOM’s possession.

Section 140 (2) of ROPA states that “No evidence of any deliberations of the Elections Commission or communications between members of the Commission regarding its business shall be admissible in any court”.

In an interview with Inews following the decision, Special Prosecutor Darshan Ramdhani, KC, made it clear that if the GECOM minutes were in his possession, he would happily give them to the defence. However, Ramdhani noted that the minutes did nothing to help the defence’s case and called its request nothing more than a delaying tactic.

“We do believe that the minutes that they’re seeking from GECOM take their defence nowhere. We believe that this, coming at this stage, is an attempt to delay and derail this matter. We, of course, are bound by the order of the Magistrate, which indicates whether ROPA, Section 140 (2) interferes with the right to a fair trial. The Magistrate felt that that matter had to be determined. And the Magistrate sent that matter to the High Court,” the Special Prosecutor said.

Ramdhani recalled that it was then Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan who had ordered the disclosure of evidence as far back as nearly two years ago. He noted that the defence got all the necessary documents and evidence as a result of this order. Ramdhani also pointed out that it was the defence who previously resisted efforts to have Statements of Poll (SoPs) provided to the prosecution.

“I made an application to the Chief Justice and the High Court heard this application. You would recall that Mr Lowenfield resisted this application. Mr Hughes appeared on his behalf and contested this application, trying to get the court not to release copies to us as the prosecution,” Ramdhani said.

“The Chief Justice, of course, as you know its history now, rejected their opposition and released certified copies of the GECOM Statements of Poll and Recount to the prosecution. It enabled us to then disclose, of course, these documents, video evidence, certified copies of Statements of Poll and Recount and the statements of all the witnesses.”

That being said, Ramdhani expressed hope that the matter is treated with the urgency it deserves, especially since these cases were filed since 2020. Ramdhani was hopeful that by the time they have to return to the Magistrate’s Court for the next hearing on April 2, 2024, the High Court matter could be dealt with.

“Going forward, we hope that the question, of course, will reach the High Court with some alacrity. The Magistrate, of course, understands. And she has given assurances that this will be done very quickly,” Ramdhani said.

“And we expect that when it gets to the High Court, GECOM will, of course, I suppose, respond to this in court. And the matter will have to be dealt with in the High Court as to whether or not those documents, which we say take their defence nowhere, (should be disclosed).”

The defendants in the election fraud cases are former Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, his former deputy Roxanne Myers, former Region Four Returning Officer Clairmont Mingo, former People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Chairperson Volda Lawrence; PNCR activist Carol Smith-Joseph, and GECOM employees Sheffern February, Enrique Livan, Denise Babb-Cummings, and Michelle Miller.

They are accused of several offences, including misconduct while holding public office, presenting falsified documentation, and planning to manipulate Guyana’s voters by presenting an inaccurate vote total.

These charges stemmed from attempts to rig the 2020 General and Regional Elections in favour of the then ruling A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition. These accused persons are all out on cash bail.