Attorney-General Basil Williams SC yesterday denied that he indirectly threatened the life of a judge as has been claimed by PPP/C MP Anil Nandlall and he signaled his intention to file legal action over the publicising of the claim.
Williams told a press conference at NCN studios that he was out of patience with media houses that continuously try to tarnish his good name with their reportage and noted that his lawyers were preparing to write letters to the Kaieteur News, the Guyana Times and Nandlall himself.
Both Nandlall and the Office of the Leader of the Opposition later issued statements asserting that Williams was unfit for office and the latter called for an immediate investigation.
Nandlall initially made the claim in a statement he posted on Thursday on his Facebook page, hours after a court hearing involving suspended Chairman of the Public Service Commission Carvil Duncan.
The matter is being heard at the High Court in Georgetown by Justice Franklin Holder, who, Nandlall alleges, was implicitly threatened by Williams. In his statement yesterday, Nandlall maintained the claim.
But according to Williams, he was cross-examining Duncan at the hearing and Nandlall was disruptive throughout.
“Mr. Nandlall… repeatedly interrupted the court. I have never seen anything like that before where throughout a session a lawyer has been repeatedly disobeying the admonishment of the presiding judge,” he told reporters, before adding that the only time Nandlall was not disruptive was when the judge was about to leave the courtroom, after declaring that he was adjourning the matter.
Williams stated that he had decided up to that point that he wouldn’t be engaging Nandlall and would instead address all his contentions to the judge.
He said that when the judge indicated that he was going to adjourn the matter, he asked whether he could be permitted to ask Duncan’s confidential secretary one final question. He was permitted to do so.
According to Williams, after noticing that the judge was about to leave the bench, he inquired whether the answer to the last question was recorded. “The judge to my surprise said Mr. Williams you are not in charge of my court and I said, ‘No sir’ …but the judge then said to me ‘Mr. Williams I interpret what you are saying to mean that I deliberately did not record the yes answer that was given by the witness previously and I take great umbrage at that.’ And I said sir surely that is not on your record, because I never said anything to that effect or intended anything like that,” he explained.
Williams recalled that he told the judge that his comments reminded him of a similar allegation made against him by a magistrate several years ago.
“He (the magistrate) cited me for contempt and the rest is history. And I said that since then I have always been very particular about what I say to the courts and to be precise so that nothing else like that could return and I said coincidentally that magistrate is dead now and I moved on,” he said.
Williams said that Nandlall jumped in and started behaving like “he was under the influence of something and thereupon that is when the judge left the bench.” He said that the judge had intended to leave and he probably detained him by asking a further question.
“I am concerned about what happened yesterday. I am the Attorney-General of this country and as the Minister of Legal Affairs I have an interest in how justice is meted out in this country and I am very concerned that for an entire session yesterday….Mr. Nandlall had been disturbing the court incessantly,” he said.
Williams stressed that neither newspaper called him for any comments and clarity on the issue, which he called a sign of disrespect and an affront that amounted to an attack against the government.
“As I said time up, they will have to deal with the courts in this matter,” he added.
Meanwhile, Nandlall, in a two page statement yesterday, called the episode an “unfortunate, unprofessional and unethical outburst,” while noting that Williams’ comments were witnessed by a number of persons, including the judge, the press, witnesses, attorneys and two High Court marshals.
“Yet, Mr. Williams bare-facedly denies that he made the statements published by the press, which caused the Honourable Justice Holder to walk off the Bench in disgust and possibly fear, without adjourning the matter. In his characteristic style, Mr. Williams desperately tries to blame me for the morass in which he now finds himself and dishonestly accuses me of causing the Judge to walk off the Bench,” he said.
According to Nandlall, after nearly three hours of “futile and ineffective” cross-examination which yielded no answer supportive of his case, Williams started to get agitated and accused the judge of not accurately recording an answer from the witness. “The Judge took umbrage to the accusation and an angry Williams in a loud tone of voice repeated the accusations. The Judge, again admonished him about the accusation and about his tone of voice,” he said, while adding that it was at this point that Williams blurted out loudly the threat. “In obvious shock, the Judge walked off the bench, without adjourning the matter. I had absolutely nothing to do with the Judge walking off the Bench,” Nandlall said before making it clear that he is prepared to take on the case in court and was certain of vindication.
In its statement, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition condemned Williams’ actions and called on President David Granger to launch an immediate investigation.
“We condemn the actions of the Attorney General in the strongest possible terms and we call upon His Excellency the President to immediately launch an investigation into this matter with a view of removing the Attorney General from office. A failure by the President to act decisively in this matter would certainly send an ominous signal,” the statement said.
According to the statement, a fearless judiciary that functions in an environment that is free from political pressure, intimidation and threats of any kind, is an indispensable prerequisite to democracy.
As a result, it said Williams’ alleged actions strike at the very heart of the constitution, the separation of powers doctrine and the very foundation of the country’s fledgling democracy.
The statement said that the situation is exacerbated by the fact that threatening, abusing and intimidating independent constitutional office holders, including, members of the judiciary seem to be part of an institutional strategy of the administration, designed to break the back of the independence and functional autonomy of these organisations. It asserted that the Auditor General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, and the former Chancellor of the Judiciary have all been victimised in this manner.
“In relation to the Judiciary, it appears that the Attorney General is the Administration’s chosen executor of this strategy. Only a few months ago, the former Chancellor of the Judiciary was the subject of a scandalous and blistering attack by the Attorney General in the Guyana Chronicle Newspaper because of a ruling against the State by the Guyana Court of Appeal of which the Chancellor was merely the President,” the statement said. Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had distanced himself from the perceived attacks on the acting Chancellor.
“We have received many reports of judges being intimidated by the Attorney General whenever they rule against his submissions or if he feels that they are likely to rule against his submissions,” the statement said while adding that the PPP/C stands firm in solidarity with the judiciary and will continue to struggle to ensure that the integrity, independence and dignity of the judges are protected and maintained.