AG could face serious sanction over courtroom behaviour

-Ramkarran outlines various possibilities

Attorney General Basil Williams could face serious sanction over his behaviour in the court of Justice Franklin Holder two weeks ago.

Holder has since tendered a complaint to the acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Yonette Cummings-Edwards and the matter is being deliberated on.

In his column in yesterday’s Sunday Stabroek, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran set out the various possibilities.

Noting that there are rules about the behaviour of lawyers in court, Ramkarran said that the Judge could there and then have cited Williams for contempt in the face of the court, as he indicated in his letter to the Chancellor. To do so he would have had to inform Williams that he was charging him with contempt, state the particulars of his conduct which amounted to contempt and invite him to answer the charge. Ramkarran said that Williams could have answered it then, or asked for an adjournment to mount a defence, or pleaded guilty, later. If Williams pleaded or was found guilty, he could have been fined or worse, imprisoned.

Ramkarran pointed out that the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Act 2010 Rule VII (3) states that “an Attorney-at-Law shall treat the court with courtesy and respect…” Rule VII (5) says that an “Attorney-at-Law shall not (engage) in angry verbal exchanges in Court even if made sotto voce.” Section 34(2) further says: “An Attorney-at-Law who breaches the code of conduct counts as an act of professional misconduct.”

“Mr Williams, 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, but this is not an option for a person holding his offices and especially since the matter has reached the Chancellor (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”, Ramkarran asserted.

Ramkarran also said that President David Granger has no business in how the courts handle this matter or in mediating an outcome. Although, representing the government, which is Williams’s client, Ramkarran said that the President may suggest a course of conduct to Williams. Even if the matter is concluded to the satisfaction of the Judge, Ramkarran said that the President may have additional, political, concerns about the incident.

Ramkarran, a former two-term Speaker of the National Assembly said that in the initial public disclosure of the matter by Anil Nandlall, former Attorney-General, the statement that attracted the most interest was Williams’s reference to a Magistrate who was the last person who told him what he should say “and he is now dead.”

“It came across as if Mr Williams was threatening the life of the Judge, which Mr Williams has denied. He said that `the allegation that I threatened to kill him, and all that nonsense, that is not so…’ But while the Judge mentioned the statement in his letter, his complaint was rather about what appeared to be a rather rash statement, to put it mildly, made by Mr Williams at the end of the exchange. The Judge’s letter reportedly said: `This was followed by a most egregious statement by Mr Williams, which is: ‘I could say what I want to say and when I want to say it. I have always been like that.’”

Ramkarran said that a long time ago he and Williams exchanged sharp and angry words before a Judge in open court.

“We were both wrong because we both participated. The next time I saw Mr Williams in the Supreme Court corridor, he approached me with outstretched hand. He can bring this matter to an end”, Ramkarran said.



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