More than two weeks after she said that a report would be issued to the press, acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards is still to pronounce on the courtroom confrontation between Attorney General Basil Williams SC and Justice Franklin Holder.
The behaviour by the AG in Justice Holder’s court has raised concerns about his conduct and the relationship between the executive and the judiciary. Justice Holder issued a letter of complaint to Justice Cummings-Edwards on the incident and the judiciary later discussed the matter and a letter was dispatched on the incident to President David Granger.
“I am in receipt of information in relation to that matter and the matter is currently being addressed,” Justice Cummings-Edwards told reporters shortly after her swearing-in on March 28 as acting Chancellor.
“An official report will be given to the press as soon everything is completed… within a matter of days,” she added.
The now acting Chancellor explained that she was briefed on the matter in her capacity as acting Chief Justice.
All of the judges of the Supreme Court attended a meeting following the courtroom incident for about half an hour but no statement was made.
Stabroek News was told that the Williams issue was discussed and it was following this meeting that a unanimous decision was taken to write to President Granger on the matter.
It is unclear what has delayed a pronouncement by the judiciary on the incident.
The Attorney General was accused by his predecessor, attorney Anil Nandlall, of threatening Justice Holder during a hearing involving suspended Chairman of the Public Service Commission Carvil Duncan.
But Williams denied that he threatened the judge. Observers have, however, noted that even in his own rendering of the events of the day in question, Williams’ words did not comport with what was expected from the Attorney General, Minister of Legal Affairs and the Leader of the Bar.
In his letter to the acting Chancellor, a copy of which was seen by this newspaper, Justice Holder detailed what transpired in court. He said that he left the bench after Williams uttered the words: “I could say what I want to say and when I want to say it, I have always been like that.” Justice Holder said he left the bench without adjourning the matter or giving instructions to either party.
“I am not prepared to sit to hear Mr Williams as an attorney-at-law in any matter whatsoever, unless he makes a genuine and meaningful apology to my satisfaction, in open court, both to me and to the Members of the Bar since they too were scandalized by his despicable conduct,” Justice Holder wrote.
Williams had told a press conference that when Justice Holder 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 enquired 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 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.
Noting that there are rules about the behaviour of lawyers in court, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran said that the Justice Holder 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 said that 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, 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 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.