Clarke’s arrest: Bar Association chastises Nandlall for “water under the bridge” remark

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Guyana Bar Association President Pauline Chase

The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) has criticised Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall’s recent comments concerning the arrest and detention of Attorney-at-Law Tamieka Clarke by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU)—an arm of the Guyana Police Force (GPF).

Clarke, who has been practicing for seven years, was arrested by SOCU on October 28 for allegedly advising her client, who was under probe by the unit, to exercise his constitutional right to remain silent.

She was only released after the intervention of Nandlall, who has already offered her a profound apology for what he described as an “unfortunate incident”.

Following a picketing exercise outside of SOCU’s Camp Street, Georgetown headquarters last Friday, decrying the GPF’s slothfulness in investigating the matter, Nandlall said that having advised that the lawyer be released, he thought this matter “water under the bridge”.

With the lawyers, however, protesting, he noted that an “aggressive agenda” is being pursued and he is not sure to what end. He said he wanted the matter to be settled amicably.

In responding, the GBA said that Nandlall’s comments “demonstrate a lack of awareness of the endemic and systemic abuse of power, disrespect, and disregard for the fundamentals of the rule of law displayed by the GPF in their interaction with members of the public and legal profession”.

“It might just be that as Attorney General, many of these Police practices and actions must have been hidden from him, as opposed to the Bar Association having a “hidden agenda”.

As more and more of these practices not only towards members of the Bar but to the public come to light, we trust that the veil which separates the actions of the organs of the State from the advisors of the State is pierced and eventually lifted,” the GBA said in a statement on Saturday.

According to the Bar, the Attorney General is improperly ascribing a “hidden agenda” in its protest. It said, too, that he is also conflating the separate issues of the lawsuit being pursued by Clarke and the wider issue of the Bar Association of the break-down in the rule of law through the actions and attitude of the GPF towards attorneys-at-law and the public at large.

The Bar maintained that the arrest of a lawyer in Guyana in the execution of his/her professional duties is unprecedented and a frightening development that has received widespread concern and condemnation locally, regionally, and internationally.

“In the circumstances, we wholly reject any allegation or insinuation that the Bar Association has any agenda other than the upholding of the rule of law as our Constitution mandates us to do. It is not “water under the bridge” unless and until the appropriate remedial action is taken.”

Hours after the GBA denounced his comments, Nandlall, via his Facebook page, expressed that his chambers consider the legal fraternity, as one of its most important strategic partners, in working to create a modern legal system and in ensuring that the rule of law reigns supreme.

In this regard, he pointed out that he has always made himself as accessible as possible, to both the GBA and the members of the legal profession by putting systems in place to ensure that there are constant consultations with the Bar and the Legal Affairs Ministry on policy and on every piece of major legislative change which impacts the legal system.
“It is my hope that this level of collaboration and cooperation will continue, if not intensify, in the future as our fundamental objectives will hopefully remain aligned.”

“Against this backdrop, I am disappointed that the [Bar] Association misunderstood my recent remarks in respect of the Tamieka Clarke fiasco. I thought that my position on this matter was clear. I intervened. I apologised to Ms Clarke and expressed the view that the incident was unfortunate and regrettable and the same should be amicably resolved,” Nandlall said.

The GPF, the only lawful authority to deal with the conduct of the Police officers, he added, has indicated that a probe has been activated. He said it is the rule of law that underscores the functional autonomy of the GPF, including the processes by which its members are disciplined.

The Attorney General stressed; “For the record, I never ascribed any “hidden agenda” to the Guyana Bar Association. The video of what I said remains publicly accessible. Neither have I trivialised what transpired in Clarke’s incident. Indeed, the speed and nature of my intervention, without more, ought to have illustrated the seriousness with which I view the matter. I also made it crystalline that there is no policy at the level of the Government or the Guyana Police Force intended or designed to subvert either the Constitution or the rule of law.”

Nandlall, a Senior Counsel, nevertheless assured that the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Ministry of Legal Affairs “will continue to champion the cause of the rule of law and constitutionalism and will continue to work with the Guyana Bar Association and indeed every other person and entity in this country with the same or a similar agenda.”

Meanwhile, the GBA is calling on the acting Police Commissioner, Clifton Hicken, to forthwith apologise to Clarke; compensate her for unlawful imprisonment; launch a full inquiry into the matter with such necessary disciplinary action enforced swiftly including charges being laid against the offending officer(s), there are no lawful grounds for the arrest, and to exercise disciplinary action including termination of any officer(s) who were aware of and allowed this type conduct.

The GPF, on Friday, stated that it has completed investigations into the lawyer’s arrest and detention and has forwarded a file to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for legal advice.