Introducing the regional commissioners on the Linden Commission of Inquiry
There are three regional commissioners sitting on the recently set up Commission of Inquiry into the incidents in the mining town of Linden which saw three persons being shot and killed. The two Jamaicans and one Trinidadian bring to the commission vast amounts of experience in the legal profession and other areas.
Sunday Stabroek spoke briefly to the three and they provided snippets about their professional and private lives.
Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal of Trinidad and Tobago is one of two women sitting on the commission and she comes with experience in the legal field both as a defence attorney and a prosecutor. In addition to that she lectures and is an author.
One of the better known cases she prosecuted was the sedition trial of Jamaat-al-Muslimeen leader Imam Yasin Abu Bakr, which ended in a hung jury last month. It was the first sedition trial the country had had in years and she said it took almost four months to complete. There will now be a retrial. The 70-year-old Bakr, also known as Lennox Phillip, who led an attempted coup against the Trinidadian government on July 27, 1990, will again face charges of communicating a statement having a seditious intention, two counts of inciting to demand with menaces with intent to steal, and endeavouring to provoke a breach of the peace.
“That was a fairly lengthy unusual case,” Seetahal said of the matter.
Seetahal has been an independent senator for almost eight years – ie, one who is appointed by the President of T&T but who is not aligned to either of the two political parties in parliament. She told Sunday Stabroek that she has taught at the Trinidad law school for twelve years in the areas of criminal practice and procedure, and evidence and drafting. She is the author of a book entitled Commonwealth Caribbean Criminal Practices and Procedures which is used as a standard text in all the law schools of the Caribbean. It is ten years old now and is in its third edition going into its fourth. She told the Sunday Stabroek that she has studied the Guyanese law and as such is familiar with the country’s criminal procedures.
It is not her first trip to Guyana; the last one was with a view to conducting research on regional witness protection.
A columnist for the Trinidad Express, Senior Counsel Seetahal has been commenting on legal matters in Guyana, including her public disagreement with acting Chief Justice Ian Chang’s ruling that prevented the Director of Public Prosecution Ali-Hack from instituting a rape charge against then Commissioner of Police Henry Greene.
In her column Seetahal said she indicated that the matter should have been tested by the Court of Appeal, but she has since understood that Guyana’s laws are slightly different in that regard. She noted that there was a matter in Trinidad where a charge was laid against the then sitting Chief Justice and an attempt was made to stop the prosecution, but in the first instance it was the High Court which stopped it. It went on appeal straight up to the Privy Council, which ruled it would be a very rare thing for a prosecution to be stopped, because it is in the public interest that a criminal trial be heard as a criminal trial. It ruled that only if there was evidence of clear political manipulation and interference would that occur.
“And so I felt in this case there was no such evidence and the proper forum for that matter was the courts – that would be the Magistrate‘s Court and the High Court,” she said of Greene’s case.
She plans to cite Chang’s judgment in the next edition of her book, adding that she knows Justice Chang who was a year ahead of her in law school, and her comments do not mean she has anything personal against him.
Seetahal said that she is not married and does not have children, but she is a “very long suffering” aunt of fourteen and she has had some deep involvement in their lives.
She has her own chambers and said she mentors many young lawyers.
Senior Counsel K.D Knights has been in the legal profession since 1973 after he was trained in London as a barrister-at-law in Grey’s Inn. He returned to Jamaica after being called to the bar and was in private practice for 17 years. Thereafter he went into politics and was first named the Minister of National Security & Justice ending his career as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Having been in government from 1989 until 2006 Knights then returned to private practice where he remains. He left the courtroom and went straight into politics, and the morning after he had left politics he went back into the courtroom.
“I love the courtroom and I felt in the same way that I went straight from the court to the politics I could leave the politics… [and go] to the courts,” he told the Sunday Stabroek.
Knights indicated that he always wanted to be in the field of law as in his youth there were some lawyers around whom he wanted to emulate. Having left high school he went into the civil service, and he served in what was then the Premier’s office. The premier at the time was Norman Manley – Jamaica’s most famous lawyer – who influenced him to go to Grey’s Inn because he had been there.
This is not Knights’ first COI as he was lawyer advocate in the famous Manatt-Dudus Inquiry, as it was known, in Jamaica last year which looked at the then government’s actions in the extradition of the now jailed Jamaican drug kingpin, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke.
He explained to the Sunday Stabroek that the commission was investigating members of the government taking “a strange approach towards an extradition matter,” and it implicated former Prime Minister Bruce Golding and several former government ministers. Golding had appeared before the commission and according to media reports himself and Knights traded verbal punches. Knights noted that when the commission began there was a government in office headed by a prime minister who later stepped down, and by the time the commission ended its work in December of last year a new administration was in office.
“There are some persons who have been very charitable who say I have played a role in that regard having cross-examined some political leaders,” Knights said.
On a personal note Knights told this newspaper he is from the parish of St Elizabeth and he read for a degree in philosophy in the United States before heading to the UK to study law. He is married to Pauline Knights and has two children. Two of his grandchildren live with him and the others live abroad but come home to spend time. He loves bird shooting and it gives him great pleasure to have his two grandsons with him when he goes on his hunting exhibitions. Recently his seven-year-old granddaughter also accompanied him after his “heart melted” when she asked to accompany him, and in his own words he “thoroughly enjoyed” that trip.
Knights has no regrets about the direction his life has taken and he advises young people to choose a profession, stay focused and make their goal to be the best at it.
And he is an ‘honorary Guyanese‘ since this is about his tenth trip to this country.
Former Jamaican Chief Justice Lensley Wolfe who served between 1996 and 2007, is the Chairman of the Linden commission.
Apart from his service in the legal profession Justice Lensley informed Sunday Stabroek that he is the chairman of a school board in Jamaica, Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Jamaica and has always made himself available to do work for the development of Jamaica.
He is married with three daughters.
“I am the only male person in my house,” he said with a laugh, and when asked if that made him very special, he responded, “I would have to ask my daughters and my wife if I am very special… they might think I am very spoilt.” When approached to become a member of this COI, Wolfe said he had to think about it as he needed to know what was involved since he was coming to a strange country. He has visited Guyana twice before as Chief Justice of Jamaica when Chief Justices’ conferences were held here. He said the commission needs people to come and give evidence, because without that they would not get too far. “It is a very sensitive situation,” he said.
The three will conduct an inquiry along with former Chancellor Cecil Kennard and Justice of Appeal Claudette Singh.