Respondents seek reversal of poll petition ruling

Stabroek News
January 30, 2001

Respondents in the elections petition yesterday filed notices in the Court of Appeal asking that Justice Claudette Singh's decision be reversed.

The notices of appeal were filed separately by Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran on behalf of his client, former president Janet Jagan, and Senior Counsel Doodnauth Singh on behalf of Chief Election Officer Stanley Singh as the representative of the Elections Commission.

The appeal will be restricted entirely to the issue of the unconstitutionality of the voter identification card legislation. In her decision on January 15, Justice Singh ruled that the 1997 Elections Laws Amendment Act No 22--providing for the compulsory use of voter identification cards--contravened Articles 59 and 159 of the 1980 Constitution. She reasoned that because the Articles only required that a citizen be over 18, a citizen, and registered, the added restriction of a voter ID card had diminished a voter's fundamental right.

Senior Counsel Keith Massiah on behalf of PNC leader Desmond Hoyte had carried the arguments questioning the compulsory use of ID cards, but the issue had been part of petitioner Esther Perreira's original filing. As a consequence of her ruling, Justice Singh found the 1997 elections to have been unlawfully conducted. But she was unable to find that acts and omissions by the Elections Commission would have affected the results--the other limb of Perreira's petition.

Justice Singh's ruling by extension put into question the validity of the government and the National Assembly. So last Friday, Justice Singh ordered that all institutions remain in office until fresh elections to be held by March 31 and that all laws passed since December 15, 1997 were temporarily validated.

The two identical appeals ask for the following relief: "....that the decision of the learned trial judge... be reversed and set aside and that the appellant should have his costs in this court and in the court below."

Justice Singh had ordered the Elections Commission to pay all the court costs after taxes of three senior counsel and two counsel involved in the petition.

Stabroek News understands that the appellants were keen to have the Court of Appeal hear the arguments early as the decision might have a bearing on amendments to the Constitution required for the compulsory use of national ID cards in the upcoming elections. It is expected that the appeal will cite a 1967 case from Jamaica where a petitioner had charged that an amendment to that country's Representation of the People Act requiring thumbprints and a photograph had contravened Section 37 of Jamaica's Constitution and disenfranchised a number of voters. The petition was subsequently turned down on the grounds that the requirements were not inconsistent with the Constitution.

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