Constitutional Challenge…AG’s capacity to defend State cases questionedThe Guyana Government is yet to make a decision as to whether it would retain external legal services to represent its appeal in the constitutional challenge case that is currently before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), because there continues to be much criticism over the performance of the Attorney General.Attorney General Basil WilliamsSpeaking with reporters on Wednesday, Attorney General Basil Williams explained that since Government has already retained two Queen’s Counsels from Barbados to represent its case in the challenge of the appointment of Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), it is possible that the services of the two legal practitioners may be extended to the constitutional challenge case – which, among other things, questions the term limit imposed on Guyanese presidents.“Well, as you know, I have two Barbadian QCs, and it’s quite possible that they could in fact (be retained)…they could be advisory, or they could also appear in the case. That’s the situation,” he stated.Asserting that no decision has as yet been taken, Williams added, “We have a lot of time. There hasn’t been a fixed date, there’s a tentative date.”This suggestion that external legal services may be used to represent Guyana has against raised questions about the capacity of the AG’s Chambers to represent state cases.One senior member of the judiciary, commenting on the possibility of the state using foreign counsels, said it is unfortunate that the Government would contemplate such a move when there are competent local lawyers that the Government can hire.The CCJ is expected to hold a case management conference on February 6, 2018, during which the dates will be set to hear the case, after the court would have consulted with attorneys on both sides in order to determine a date.Hearing is scheduled to begin at 10:00h in the Trinidad-based court, and will be done via audio-visual recording, according to information posted on the CCJ website.The decision to refer the case to the CCJ was presided over by acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Appellate Judge Dawn Gregory, and High Court Judge Rishi Persaud.Back in 2014, private citizen Cedric Richardson had filed the challenge, arguing that Act 17 of 2001, which was passed by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly, unconstitutionally curtailed and restricted his sovereign and democratic right and freedom as a qualified elector to elect a former President as the Executive President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Contending that the limit was unconstitutional and illegal, Richardson also wanted the court to determine whether the amendment with a referendum should not have been held, instead of the two-thirds majority in the National Assembly having the power to decide to limit the number of terms.The other restrictions were: to also declare unqualified to run for the presidency citizens of Guyana not resident in Guyana on Nomination Day; citizens of Guyana resident in Guyana on Nomination Day but who have not been continuously resident in Guyana for seven years prior to that date; and citizens of Guyana by registration.After several months in the court, former Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang ruled in favour of Richardson’s argument, saying that the term limit on presidents is unconstitutional without the approval of the people through a referendum.However, the decision did not sit well with Attorney General Basil Williams and former Speaker of the National Assembly Raphael Trotman, both of whom were named respondents in the court action. They asked that the ruling be “wholly set aside”; but then Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Justice Carl Singh, also upheld the High Court’s decision, arguing in the Appeal Court ruling that a decision on the term-limit rested with the people via a referendum, and not the National Assembly. He had sought to impress the point that people should choose whom they “please to govern them,” and noted that this is essential to all other rights.During the February 2017 decision, Justice Singh was supported by Justice of Appeal BS Roy in upholding Justice Chang’s decision. Current Chief Justice (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards, who also sat on the panel, had given a dissenting judgement.Meanwhile, this move by Government to retain external legal services for yet another case comes on the heels of widespread criticisms of the performance of AG Williams. Since its assumption to office, Government, represented by the AG, has lost several cases at the level of the CCJ, and in the local courts to large companies, private citizens, and even Opposition members.At a press conference last week, Williams had brushed aside criticisms of his Chamber’s underperformance after several judgments were passed against them, leaving Government to pay out millions.It was reported that in 2017, some $100 million was included in the Legal Affairs Ministry’s Budget for the retention of six attorneys by the Government to prosecute a number of high profile cases.Government recently retained the services of Barbadian Queen’s Counsels Ralph Thorn and Hal Gallop in the ongoing GECOM case. In defending the decision, the AG pointed out that their appointments would serve to enrich the jurisprudence in the region.