Lawyers argue over admissibility of documents

By William Walker
Stabroek News
April 13, 2000

Lawyers argued at length yesterday before Justice Claudette Singh over the admissibility of documents relating to the disputed 1997 elections.

On one side was Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh, for the chief election officer (CEO) Stanley Singh and on the other Senior Counsel Peter Britton for the petitioner Esther Perreira and Senior Counsel Rex McKay representing PNC leader Desmond Hoyte.

The two documents under discussion included an erratum (correction) to the CARICOM Audit Commission (CAC) report which seeks to clarify a statement on pg 27 of the report that 45,275 persons voted without identification cards. This particular section has been relied on heavily by lawyers for the petitioner and Hoyte.

Yesterday, McKay holding the erratum at a disdainful arm's length observed it was signed "unilaterally" by the Chairman of CAC, Ulric Cross, and not the other commissioners. He quipped that though Doodnauth Singh had acted for the Elections Commission as its chairman, the same had not been established for Cross. "If the commission has signed the erratum it would have been food for thought," for admission. McKay added that the document was a photocopy and thus not admissible under the Laws of Guyana. He said the erratum was engineered by a phone call to Cross which said that pg 27 was wrong.

Doodnauth Singh pointed out that the report itself was not signed by the commission; only the statement of transmission, the terms of reference and the methodology of transmission to the chairman. He said the legislation only speaks of the requirement of documents to be signed under the hand of the chairman and it did not require all the commission. "In fact when you look at pg 47 of the report on the summary of findings it is signed only by the chairman." Thus the letter did not require all the commissioners' signatures, Doodnauth Singh concluded.

He argued that the document, which was first sent to the CARICOM Secretariat and then to the CEO was "prima facie", the same document regardless of whether it was a photocopy or a facsimile. Doodnauth Singh said if he understood McKay correctly the commissioners would not be allowed to correct any error in the report.

Britton repeated that the document was a copy and thus not eligible and asked why Cross could not be brought to testify. He then began to arrange the chairman's flight schedule and said the money could come from the donor agencies. He cited Section 87 of the Evidence Act that "anyone whether a party to the cause or matter or not, may be summoned to produce a document without being summoned to give evidence...; and any person summoned ...shall be deemed to have complied with the summons if he causes the document to be produced instead of attending personally to produce it."

Britton who brought the petition back in September 1998 said he was at "the end of my tether" and wondered later how the country could have an election with the previous one still in court.

Doodnauth Singh has been pushing since Monday for the admission of the appendices to the CAC report and tried again to create a nexus between the two that would allow for its admission. Once again, he noted that the appendices has on its cover Stage 1 part 2, with the report also named Stage 1 and he referred to Annex 7 of the CAC report that lists the appendices. Doodnauth Singh went further to quote from the CARICOM-brokered Herdmanston Accord which asks all parties to be bound to the findings of Stage 1 of the CAC report and he referred again to the summary of findings on pg 47 of the CAC report and its reference to the appendices.

McKay acknowledged the importance of creating a nexus but remained unconvinced that such a connection had been established. He referred to the parties being bound to the CAC findings but added that it was "without prejudice to any judicial proceedings."

He made it clear that "we are not saying the count is wrong. We are talking of the rewriting of statements of poll (SOP)... and there was no room to doubt that SOPs were rewritten."

The elections petition which will continue on Monday was brought by Perreira on the grounds that the process was so flawed as to be unable to accurately reflect the will of the people.