Presidential Term Limit case – What you need to know

DPI, GUYANA, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

  • In 2001 the National Assembly passed Act No 17 of 2001 following a bipartisan Constitution reform process. The Act saw the amendment of Article 90 of the 1980 Constitution.

The amendments set a two-term limit for presidents and specifically outlines the qualifications for a presidential candidate.

  • December 3, 2014 a private citizen, Cedrick Richardson, filed a motion in the High Court seeking a determination of the following:
  1. Whether Act 17 of 2001 which purports to alter Article 90 of the 1980 Constitution by way of two thirds (2/3) majority vote of all the members of the National Assembly is unconstitutional and of no effect for reason of non-compliance with Article 164 (2) (a) of the Constitution.
  2. Whether Act No. 17 of 2001 … has the consequence (advertent or inadvertent) or restricting and curtailing the democratic rights and freedom of the electorate by purporting to eliminate from the executive Presidential candidature a person who has been re-elected as executive President e.g. former President Bharrat Jagdeo.
  3. Whether Act 17 of 2001 … in so far as it has the effect of restricting and curtailing the democratic rights and freedom of the electorate providing for the non-eligibility of a person who has been re-elected as executive President for presidential elections candidature, required for its legal validity the holding of a referendum of the people.
  4. Whether Act No. 17 of 2001 … diminishes and reduces the level of democracy enjoyed by the electorate prior to the purported alteration and therefore required the holding of a referendum for such alteration.
  • The challenge to the term limit came in the run up to the historic 2015 general elections. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) lost to the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition after 23 years in office of which Bharrat Jagdeo served two terms as President. The challenge ostensibly sought to allow Jagdeo to contest elections again.
  • July 9 2015, former Acting Chief Justice, Ian Chang, shortly before demitting office, ruled, among other things, the presidential term-limit was unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum.

The ruling also allowed for Jagdeo to run a third term for president. It further allowed for naturalised citizens to run for president and it invalidated the requirement that a presidential candidate be present in Guyana on Nomination Day.

  • August 7, 2015, Solicitor General, Sita Ramlall, on behalf of Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams S.C filed an appeal in the Appellate Court of Guyana (Court of Appeal) contending Chang “erred and misdirected himself in the law”. Five grounds for the appeal were cited by Ramlall.

Attorney Roysdale Forde, on behalf of Former Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman, also appealed Chang’s ruling. Trotman’s application outlined 16 grounds for appeal which included that Chang erred in law when he held that there can be no substantive addition to the provisions of the Constitution by the introduction of any new subject matter.

  • January 13, 2017, more than a year after the appeal was filed, the Court of Appeal began hearing the third term case. Former acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh, Justice of Appeal B.S Roy and current acting Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards presided over the case. There were no oral submissions, only written.
  • February 22, 2017 the Court of Appeal, shortly before then Acting Chancellor Singh demitted office, upheld the Chang ruling that Act 17 of 2001 was unconstitutional by split decision. Singh and Justice Roy ruled to uphold the decision while CJ Cummings-Edwards dissented. Singh retired the day after the ruling and the decision was widely condemned as being done in haste.

In the reading of their rulings, Justice Singh said term limits rest with the people via referendum. However, Justice Cummings-Edwards upheld the validity of Act 17 of 2001 stating it “did not require approval by referendum”. “It is not unconstitutional. It did not diminish the democratic right of the electorate,” she said.

Attorney General Williams filed an appeal with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) within 30 days of the Court of Appeal’s ruling.

  • March 12, 2017 the CCJ begins hearing arguments on the third term case. Attorney General Williams SC, Solicitor General, Kim Kyte, Barbadian Queen’s Counsel Hal Gollop and Attorney Ralph Thorne represented the state.

In his argument, AG Williams contended neither the High Court nor the Court of Appeal should have entered into an inquiry as to whether the term limit was “proprietous etc., they would according to case law have been overstepping.”

Kyte told the CCJ to consider the respondent, Richardson, waited 14 years to challenge what was already a sound and well-established procedure. Three senior attorneys from Trinidad and Tobago represented Richardson.

  • March 21, 2017 the man who filed the third term challenge, Cedric Richardson disappears. Since filing the motion Richardson has kept away from public scrutiny however when the Attorney General Chambers attempted to serve him he could not be found.

Richardson could not be found at the Lot 4 West Ruimveldt address which was listed on court documents despite several attempts by the AG Chambers. Throughout the third term case questions have been raised on how Richardson amassed such high-level representation. The Opposition and is leader, Jagdeo have repeatedly distanced themselves from Richardson since the case began.

  • March 12, 2018 the state argues before the CCJ once again that the amendments to affect the presidential term limit were done in accordance with the Constitution, even as those representing the challenger maintained that a referendum was required and that the two-term restriction is unlawful.
  • June 26, 2018 the CCJ hands down ruling on third term case. President of the CCJ, Sir Dennis Byron ruled…
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