Guyana’s Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang has dismissed the attorney general’s case of constitutional breach by the opposition in the setting up of the Committee of Selection saying the court cannot intervene in the internal affairs of Parliament.
“The court holds that the motion of the attorney general is legally misconceived in that the affidavit in support of motion contains no allegation of fact capable of supporting a finding of constitutional breach by any of the respondents or by the National Assembly,” Chang said in his ruling.
Chang’s lengthy ruling pointed out that the affairs of the National Assembly have to be settled within the House and not in the court. Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s motion sought a declaration that “all standing committees and special select committees of the National Assembly of the 10th Parliament of Guyana are to be constituted in proportion to the number of seats which each political party was allocated in the said National Assembly, based upon the results of the national and general elections held on November 28, 2011, and in accordance with the provisions of Articles 60 and 160 of the Constitution of Guyana and the provisions of the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act Number 15 of 2000″.
The motion also sought for the February 10 composition of the Committee of Selection, which was mandated by a vote, be declared a violation of the principle of proportionality.
The opposition had used their majority in Parliament to have the committee composed of four PPP/ C members, four APNU members and one AFC member as opposed to the governing party’s proposed 10-seat committee (five PPP members, four APNU members and one AFC member).
Chang’s 30-page ruling stated, “It is the National Assembly which fixes the numerical strength of its membership. If so, it is difficult to conceive that there would be any constitutional limitation on the power of the National Assembly to fix the numerical strength of the membership of any of its Standing Committee.”
Since the Constitution has not mandated in any of its provisions that the membership of any of the standing committees must be derived wholly or in part from the elected membership of the National Assembly, Chang said the question of proportional representation in relation to the membership of any of the standing committees cannot constitutionally arise.
Nandlall’s motion had also sought to have the vote to constitute the committee revoked, cancelled, or annulled, arguing it violates the Constitution and elections laws. Nandlall’s motion was presented in the High Court in March and he presented a plethora of evidence from across the Commonwealth as authorities for his motion.
Standing Orders 81 (2) and 94 of Parliament speak to the numerical strength and the composition of the Committee of Selection.
Order 81 (2) fixes the numerical strength of the membership of the committee between six and 10, while Order 94 speaks to a balance of parties in the assembly being reflected in the committee.
More importantly, Chang pointed out that all standing orders are not part of the Constitution and cannot be used or taken into account to interpret or colour the Constitution.
“Therefore, the court cannot look at those standing orders to interpret the provisions of Articles 60 and 160. Their interpretation is for the Speaker of the National Assembly.” Chang further explained that had the National Assembly acted inconsistently with Standing Order 94, it was a matter for the National Assembly itself and not the court. While the National Assembly cannot act in contravention of the Constitution, it can do so of its standing orders which are not laws, Chang stated.
The motion was brought against Leader of the Opposition David Granger and Speaker of the House Raphael Trotman. Granger’s representation was led by Rex McKay, Senior Counsel, and Basil Williams, while Attorneys Nigel Hughes and Roysdale Forde represented Trotman.
Attorneys for the opposition had based their arguments on the fact that the court has no jurisdiction to intervene in the affairs of the National Assembly and presented arguments for a dismissal of the AG’s arguments.
Chang then awarded the cost of Gy$ 75,000 to Granger while Trotman was awarded Gy$ 40,000. “Because of the public interest nature of this matter, the court does not see it fit to award a high level of costs to the respondents,” Chang said.
AG to appeal
Meanwhile, Nandlall called the acting chief justice’s ruling “surprising”, saying he will critically review the ruling with his team before filing an appeal.
Nandlall said that the matter should be revised by a higher authority to eliminate any case of the chief justice falling into error. For now, Nandlall said government would proceed with the constituting of the Committee of Selection as was voted on by the opposition.
However, APNU co-chairman Dr Rupert Roopnaraine said the coalition was not in the least bit surprised by Chang’s ruling. Dr Roopnaraine pointed out that while Nandlall produced an “avalanche” of cases, he failed “to persuade me that there was a constitutional breach”. AFC’s chairman and counsel on Trotman’s team, Khemraj Ramjattan said the ruling “wasn’t unexpected”. He added that he was “glad we were vindicated”.