Attorneys who are handling cases for the State without the knowledge and authorization of the Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams SC are being asked to immediately contact his Chambers and to also provide a written report on the status of those matters.
This plea follows comments by Williams that his office had no knowledge of the case involving a land dispute with Toolsie Persaud Limited (TPL), which will now cost government $1.7 billion in damages. That decision was handed down by the High Court on April 20 and is to be appealed.
Newspaper notices, without signatures have been appearing in the Stabroek News seeking out private attorneys who are handing state-related cases. It is unclear why the notice is only now being issued, three years into the life of this administration.
The notices state that the AG’s Chambers is requesting that all attorneys in receipt/possession and/or making representation on behalf of the Chambers, not authorized by the current AG, “do immediately notify the Chambers of the said matters”. Further the notices said that those attorneys are also being asked to “give a written report to the Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Senior Counsel Basil Williams, S.C, M.P regarding the status of each case for which you have conduct”.
The notices end with words of appreciation for the work the attorneys in question would have done thus far. “The Chambers thanks you for your enduring assistance and looks forward for your timely response on or before 7th May, 2018”, they read.
Days after the High Court ruled in favour of TPL, Williams informed reporters that his Chambers had no knowledge of the case, nor did there exist any file on it.
The AG was not listed as a party to the proceedings. The government and its agent, the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), were, however, represented by Senior Counsel Ashton Chase and attorney Timothy Jonas respectively. TPL was represented by Senior Counsel Robin Stoby. In this case, the company’s ownership of land at Turkeyen, including the site of the MovieTowne cinema complex and shopping mall was being challenged.
The dispute between the State and TPL which dates back to 1987, had been before the court for a decade. The writ was filed in 2008. Additionally, an aspect of the dispute had engaged the attention of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in 2008 as well. It is unclear why nearly three years after taking office, the AG and his office would have been unaware of the TPL case.
The AG’s Chambers has come under scrutiny over its handling of several matters which have seen significant awards made against the state.
Responding to questions from reporters, Williams had expressed shock at what he described as representation being provided to the Government in the case by “the old regime” under his predecessor Anil Nandlall and the former PPP/C Government.
While noting that these issues are being investigated, Williams said “we had asked for a list of these cases from the Chief Justice and the Court of Appeal. And we had also asked certain practitioners whether they had any cases for us.”
Asked if he had gotten any response to the information being sought, Williams told reporters he did, but said that no such information had ever been provided regarding the TPL challenge.