The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled that an amendment, that barred Presidents of the Republic of Guyana from serving more than two terms in office, was a valid amendment to the Constitution.
The amendment, which was made to the Constitution of Guyana in 2000, also added the further qualifications that a candidate for President must be a Guyanese by birth or parentage, residing in Guyana on the date of nomination for election, and continuously resident in the country for a period of seven years before nomination day.
Delivering the judgement, outgoing CCJ President, Justice Denis Byron, said constitutional amendments made in 2001, which set a two-term limit for presidents and specifically outlined the qualifications for a presidential candidate, were “validly enacted”.
The historic ruling handed down earlier today in the Trinidad-based court struck down a decision made by former acting Chief Justice Ian Chang in July 2015 and upheld by the Court of Appeal.
The challenge to the term limits had been filed in December 2014 by a private citizen, Cedric Richardson who had argued that the constitutional amendment curtailed “the democratic rights and freedom of the electorate” by purporting to eliminate from the executive Presidential candidature, a person like Jagdeo.
The High Court, and a majority of the Court of Appeal, agreed with Mr. Richardson. They said that an essential feature of a sovereign democratic state was the freedom enjoyed by its people to choose whom they wish to represent them. The amendment was therefore unconstitutional because it “diluted the opportunity of the people to elect a President of their choice.”
The Attorney General of Guyana appealed to the CCJ challenging the majority ruling in the Court of Appeal. The main issue in the appeal was whether the additional qualifications set out in the amendment diluted the rights of the electorate or undermined the sovereign democratic nature of the state of Guyana as prescribed by Articles 1 and 9.
The Court outlined guiding principles for assessing when new amendments to the Constitution did not require the holding of a referendum. Ultimately, the test was whether any such new amendments were “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society”. To determine this, any court called upon to assess such a matter should “look to the history, substance and practical consequences of the amendment, to the reasonsadvanced for it and to the interests it serves.”
The challenge to the term limit came in the run up to the 2015 general elections. which 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, although Jagdeo distanced himself from the case.
Justice Chang had ruled in Richardson’s favour, saying that the presidential term-limit was unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum. His ruling further allowed for naturalized citizens to run for president and invalidated the requirement that a presidential candidate be present in Guyana on Nomination Day.
But the decision was challenged by Attorney General Basil Williams and the then Speaker of the National Assembly, Raphael Trotman, in the Court of Appeal. When the higher court upheld the ruling, Williams then moved to the CCJ.
In its 6-1 ruling, the CCJ said the presidential term limit in Guyana’s Constitution is fit and proper.
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