The Leader of the Opposition, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo suggested that Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, SC, be removed from his post or shuffled off to another Ministry for his inappropriate remarks against a High Court Judge.
“If the President’s investigations find that he [AG] did make those comments to a judge then it’s the President that has to discipline him. The President can do so by removing him from office, by doing what they have done before -to send, to reshuffle to another ministry – maybe the Ministry of Social Cohesion,” he recommended today during a conference at Freedom House.
Williams’ incident occurred during the ongoing trial of Carvil Duncan, who had moved to the court to block the work of a presidential tribunal that was set up to determine whether he should be removed from his post as Chairman of the Public Service Commission in light of his criminal charges.
Representing Duncan was Attorney-at-law and former Attorney General (AG), Anil Nandlall, while the current AG Williams was representing the state.
Following an exchange between the Attorney General and the High Court Judge on March 23, Justice Franklyn Holder stormed out of the courtroom without adjourning the matter before him.
The AG was quoted as having said, “I could say what I want to say and however I want to say it, I have always been like that” and “…The last Magistrate who did that to me was later found dead.”
Williams has since said among other things that his statements were taken out of context and blamed Nandlall- who had issued a statement detailing his outburst- for what happened in court.
“ Nandlall was the one who caused the problem…we can’t allow Nandlall to create this problem and leave it unresolved. The Judge and I will resolve this issue,” Williams insisted.
In fact, the Attorney General defended his actions and his statements. “Everything I dealt with in that short time was to disabuse the learned Judge’s mind that his interpretation was not (so),” he stated.
Williams believed that the Judge fell prey to “transferred frustration” as a result of Nandlall’s “barracking” of nearly three hours.
Justice holder in a letter of complaint to the Chancellor (ag) however, laid blame squarely at the feet of Williams whose behaviour he said was “insulting, disrespectful and calculated to scandalise and lower the authority of the Court in the face of the Court.”
The High Court Judge said he “took umbrage to his [Williams’] tone and what he was insinuating, which was in effect that the court was being selective in recording the evidence”.
The Judge said Williams responded by saying that the last person who told him what he should not say was a Magistrate and he was now dead.
According to Justice Holder “Mr. William’s behavior was highly contemptuous and deserving of him being cited for contempt in the face of the Court. Instead of doing so at that moment, I chose to leave the Bench.”
He continued “however, it does not mean that Mr. Williams’ behavior should go unattended. He is not only a Senior Counsel, he is also the Attorney General and leader of the Bar. His behaviour begs the question, whether he is respectful and aware of the functions and duties that attend these offices.”
Jagdeo, on Monday reiterated his first official call for the President, David Granger to have the incident that took place in the court room be investigated.
“We can’t take lightly, as banter, the words of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, in court… This is not just an ordinary lawyer going to court and making these statements to a Judge, this is Attorney General, Minister, Leader of the BAR, Senior Council, that’s the difference,” the Opposition Leader explained.
Jagdeo also supported Justice Holder’s decision to leave the room and issue a complaint against the Attorney General.
“Justice Holder did the right thing. He could have probably cited the Attorney General for contempt in court and that is debatable….but I think had he done that and just left the matter there then we would not have been able to understand the full impact, the import of this event on our country and a pattern of behavior that seems to be coming from this Government,” he explained.
Justice Holder has also asserted his refusal to hear Williams as an Attorney-at-Law in any matter whatsoever, unless he makes a genuine and meaningful apology, in open Court.
Williams when questioned as to whether he would make an apology, told media operatives “I don’t know about apology.”
Justice Holder had formally complained to the Chancellor of the Judiciary that he abruptly walked out of the courtroom last Thursday as a result of statements made by the Attorney General.
Newly-appointed acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards told reporters on Tuesday that she was in receipt of information on the matter and the issue was currently “being addressed”.
Meanwhile, former Speaker of the National Assembly, Ralph Ramkarran, SC, in his weekly “Conversation Tree” column cited the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Act 2010 and outlined certain rules about how lawyers ought to behave in court as he articulated on Williams’ conduct before Justice Holder.
Among other things, Ramkarran posited that while the Attorney General, a highly visible public figure holding one of the most important positions in Government, can avoid the sanction of the Judge by not appearing before him again, this is not an option for a person holding his offices and especially since the matter has reached the Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) and the President.
“Since a private apology is now out of the question, because the Judge’s letter demanding an apology in open court is in the public domain, Mr Williams could now be forced to consider a public apology. Failing this, the Chancellor (ag) can convene the Full Court and set in motion the process to hear a complaint of misconduct against Mr Williams. The Full Court can impose a penalty as severe as disbarment,” the Senior Counsel noted.