…calls for cessation, investigation and steps to remedy damage caused
The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) is the latest body to speak out against judicial interference, while noting that the judiciary and judicial independence must be protected.
Referencing the recent debacle involving Attorney General Basil Williams, SC, – where he was accused of issuing death threats to Justice Franklyn Holder at the recent hearing of legal proceedings filed by Carvil Duncan against the State, in addition to other Judicial improprieties – the Association said the “judiciary must be protected when actions occur that seek to destroy, penetrate and even climb over the wall of judicial independence.”
According to the Bar Association, “an important primary layer of judicial independence is for the judge to follow the facts and law without fear or favour, so as to uphold the rule of law, preserve the separation of governmental powers, and promote due process. In this regard, it has been accepted that every judge should be free to decide matters before him or her in accordance with his assessment of the facts and his or her understanding of the law, without any improper influences, inducements or pressures, direct or indirect from any quarter or for any reason. Additionally, judicial independence principally entails building a protective wall around an individual judge who will guard against the possibility of undue influences.”
“It is with these core principles in mind, and in the face of renewed attacks on the independence of the Guyanese judiciary that the Guyana Bar Association once again condemns the recent attacks, appreciating that the answers to attacks on the independence of the judiciary will vary depending on the specifics of the attacks” said the GBA.
Earlier this year Williams and the State-controlled Guyana Chronicle came under fire for their attack on the then Chancellor Justice Carl Singh, following his ruling which dismissed a State-sponsored appeal against a High Court decision quashing a racial incitement charge against Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo.
The apparent intimidation campaign, which was being peddled by the State’s newspaper attributed comments to the Attorney General expressing displeasure with rulings made by Singh, stressing the point that the “sun is setting” on the Chancellor’s career with his pending retirement.
The GBA had condemned the attacks against Singh citing that attacks against the Judiciary, above which the Chancellor presides, should never happen.
The former President and current committee member of the Bar Association, Teni Housty had remarked that “the whole system of administration of justice, the confidence in the independence and impartiality of the Judiciary, all of those things go and the ultimate rule of law suffers.”
The Opposition Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) recently spoke out against Williams’ most recent actions and called for the Guyana Police Force to launch an investigation into his ‘threat’ against Justice Holder, including the death of the Magistrate.
The words allegedly uttered by Williams to Justice Holder are as follows: “I will speak how I want and say what I want anywhere I want…furthermore the last magistrate who did that to me was later found dead…I am saying that the last magistrate who did this to me was later found dead”.
According to the party, it is against this backdrop that the Attorney General’s ominous remarks to Justice Holder must be viewed. “Although this incident was witnessed by over a dozen persons, including the judge himself and a reporter from the Chronicle Newspaper and while Williams admits to the words being said by him, he barefacedly and clumsily tries to change the context and inject more words, as he attempts to justify what is clearly unjustifiable.”
Williams in his defence stated that his words were taken out of context. He related that, at the time, he had cross-examined Duncan’s confidential secretary and afterwards had a discourse with Justice Holder, who he said was already leaving the bench.
According to Williams he asked the judge, who had just adjourned, whether the witness’s last response to his cross-examination had been recorded by the court. “The judge, to my surprise, said, ‘Mr Williams, you are not in charge of my court’, and I said, ‘Not me, that could be said of Mr Nandlall, who has been trying to control your court’. And he then said to me, ‘Mr Williams, I interpret that to mean that I deliberately did not record the answer that you said was given by the witness’.”
Williams claimed to have then related an anecdote to Justice Holder about a magistrate who had, in the past, made a similar allegation against him. He said that that magistrate had incorrectly interpreted a statement he had made, and ever since that day, he has been careful with the words he uses in court.
“And (I said), ‘Incidentally, that magistrate is dead now,’ and I moved on; and the judge and I continued addressing issues. Mr Nandlall then jumped in…and thereupon, that’s when the judge left the bench,” the Attorney General related.
The PPP, in a statement, said it is cognizant of the fact that this is not an isolated incident but is part of a wider policy of the Government to denude independent constitutional agencies of their institutional and functional autonomy, to malign and assault the holders of these offices and to emasculate them, so that they act in a manner in which the government wishes them to act and not in accordance with their constitutional and lawful mandate.
The Guyana Bar Association says it is calling for a cessation of all future attacks; an investigation into the recent attacks on the independence of the judiciary and, where the attacks are sustained, that appropriate steps be taken to remedy the damage caused by those attacks.
In light of the recent debacle the Guyana Bar Association says it is urging all “our judicial officers to continue to take each day at a time, attempting with true humility to perform duties of office with fidelity, devotion of duty and without fear or favour”.