Bar Association calls out AG over ‘unwarranted attack’ on legal profession

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The Bar Council of the Guyana Bar Association has deemed the remarks made by Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams, who was reported in a section of media outlining concerns with lawyers in private practice who make representation for the State, as unwarranted.

Attorney General & Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams

According to the Bar Association, the Attorney General, in referring to the conduct of litigation by lawyers in private practice for the State, is reported to have said that criminal action needs to be taken against lawyers conducting such litigation and that he “believes that [lawyers] need to start being charged now”.

“These statements of the Attorney General, in addition to ignoring the fact that it is the Director of Public Prosecutions, a constitutional office-holder, whose duty it is to determine when and under what circumstances persons should face criminal charges, may give the incorrect impression to the public that there is something wrong, sinister or unlawful with lawyers in private practice conducting litigation for the State” said the Association.

However, the Bar Association said that lawyers at the private Bar have always conducted litigation for the State in Guyana and throughout the Commonwealth, and continue to do so today.

“This practice is entirely proper and is used where lawyers in private practice have such skills, experience or specialist knowledge of discrete areas of law to enable them properly and successfully conduct litigation on behalf of the State” the Bar said while pointing to the writings of then Attorney General Dr Mohammed Shahabudeen, who expounded the same sentiments expressed by the Association.

Moreover, the Bar said that the fact that Williams has himself retained counsel in private practice from outside of Guyana to conduct litigation (SM Jaleel & Co Ltd and Guyana Beverages Inc v The Co-operative Republic of Guyana, Zulfikar Mustapha v Attorney General and The Attorney General of Guyana v Cedric Richardson) indicates that the practice of the State retaining lawyers in private practice to conduct litigation is both well established and continues today.

“It is clear therefore that lawyers who conduct litigation for the State commit no criminal conduct whatsoever by the fact of their conducting that litigation. It is also clear that it is neither improper nor unusual for lawyers in private practice to conduct litigation for the State” said the Council.

As such, the Bar Council says it views “the comments made by the Attorney General as an entirely unwarranted attack on the professionalism and the independence of the members of legal profession, unbecoming of a member of the Inner Bar” and is urging Williams to strengthen methods of record keeping at the Attorney General’s Chambers, if there are difficulties in that regard.

Moreover, the Association is calling on the Attorney General’s Chambers to “resolve issues concerning the conduct of litigation with those lawyers appearing for the State privately, with circumspection, and in a manner becoming of the standards of the profession.”

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