Court of Appeal rules presidential term limits unconstitutional

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Feb 22, CMC – The Guyana government Wednesday said it would appeal to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), a ruling by the country’s Court of Appeal that presidential term limits are unconstitutional.
By a majority two to one verdict, the three-member Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal that had been filed against a ruling by then Chief Justice, Ian Chang in July 2015.
Chang had ruled that the Constitutional Amendment, Act No. 17 of 2001, which limits presidencies to two terms is invalid because such a decision requires a referendum.
The former Chief Justice said Article No.17 of 2001 is without legal effect because it does not comply with other articles of the Constitution dealing with repugnancy, democratic society and sovereignty belonging to the people which require a referendum for any alteration.
Lawyers for the plaintiff, Cedric Richardson, had argued that the Constitution could have been amended only by a referendum rather than by at least two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly.
In his affidavit, Richardson said that the purported alteration of the Constitution by Act 17 of 2001 would curtail or delimit the electorate’s choice of Presidential candidate by rendering ineligible for the candidature any person who has been re-elected once as President.
Attorney General Basil Williams Wednesday said the State would appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal to the CCJ, which is the country’s highest and final Court.
In the ruling, Justice B.S. Roy and the Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh voted against the appeal with Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards voting in favour.
In her dissenting decision, the Chief Justice said the amendment to limit presidential terms to two is “not unconstitutional.
“The people of Guyana in whom sovereignty lies exercise their sovereignty through representatives of Parliament and Local Democratic organs,” she said, adding that sovereignty of the people is exercised by their representatives and so the amendment did not alter, dilute, affect or amend Articles 1 and 9 of Guyana’s constitution.
The Chief Justice said that the people themselves gave that power to Parliament to change the constitution within the various levels of entrenchment, and affect people’s right to vote or choose who should be their president in keeping with certain restrictions.
She said that the appellant had failed to prove the amendment that provides for term limits was unconstitutional.
But the Chancellor of the Judiciary said any law that would have the effect of suppressing the right to freely elect someone of their choice would be unconstitutional.
“The people are entitled, in keeping with democratic principles to freely elect their representatives,” Singh said, noting that further disqualification will further diminish the sovereign and democratic entitlements of the Guyanese people.
The Chancellor said that the “deeply entrenched” Articles 1 and 9 of Guyana’s Constitution could only be changed by referendum to achieve legal validity and efficacy and described as an “incredible” a request by Williams to find that the proceedings were void from the inception because there was a reference to the non-existent Article 17 of 2001 instead of Article 17 of 2000.
“It was an error and that’s what it is,” he said, adding that no evidence had been led to show that anyone had been prejudiced or disadvantaged.
Lawyers for the plaintiff, Cedric Richardson, had argued that the Constitution could have been amended only by a referendum rather than by at least two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly.
In his affidavit, Richardson said that the purported alteration of the Constitution by Act 17 of 2001 would curtail or delimit the electorate’s choice of Presidential candidate by rendering ineligible for the candidature any person who has been re-elected once as President.

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