Bar Council raps Attorney General over comments on private lawyers

Basil Williams

Recent comments made by Attorney General Basil Williams SC that private lawyers who fail to hand over cases involving the state should be charged, are out of place and unnecessary, the Bar Council of the Bar Association of Guyana said yesterday.

“The Bar Council ….views the comments made by the Attorney General as an entirely unwarranted attack on the professionalism and the independence of the members of the legal profession, unbecoming of a member of the Inner Bar”, the Association said yesterday in reaction to the contents of an article published in the Kaieteur News on May 18, 2018.

The Association said that it was very much concerned about the comments attributed to the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs.

“The Attorney General, in referring to the conduct of litigation by lawyers in private practice for the State, is reported to have said that criminal action needs to be taken against lawyers conducting such litigation and that he `believes that [lawyers] need to start being charged now’. These statements of the Attorney General, in addition to ignoring the fact that it is the Director of Public Prosecutions, a constitutional office-holder, whose duty it is to determine when and under what circumstances persons should face criminal charges, may give the incorrect impression to the public that there is something wrong, sinister or unlawful with lawyers in private practice conducting litigation for the State”, the release said.

It was stressed that the reality is that lawyers at the private Bar have always conducted litigation for the State in Guyana and throughout the Common-wealth, and continue to do so today. This practice is “entirely proper” and is used where lawyers in private practice have such skills, experience or specialist knowledge of discrete areas of law to enable them properly and successfully conduct litigation on behalf of the State, the Association said.

After making reference to the 1973 writings of the then AG Dr Mohammed Shahabuddeen, the release said that the fact that the Attorney General has himself retained counsel in private practice from outside of Guyana to conduct litigation indicates that the “practice of the State retaining lawyers in private practice to conduct litigation is both well established and continues today”. Government has retained two Barbadian Queen’s Counsel, Hal Gollop and Richard Thorne, to represent the administration locally as well as internationally.

The Association cited the cases SM Jaleel & Co Ltd and Guyana Beverages Inc v The Co-operative Republic of Guyana, Zulfikar Mustapha v Attorney General and The Attorney General of Guyana v Cedric Richardson as among those for which private lawyers were retained.

“It is clear therefore that lawyers who conduct litigation for the State commit no criminal conduct whatsoever by the fact of their conducting that litigation. It is also clear that it is neither improper nor unusual for lawyers in private practice to conduct litigation for the State”, the release read.

Williams has on several occasions claimed that his Chambers was unaware of which cases were outsourced until it was too late and adverse judgments were rendered against the State.

The Bar Association used the opportunity to urge Williams to strengthen methods of record- keeping at the Attorney General’s Chambers, if there are difficulties in that regard, and to resolve issues concerning the conduct of litigation with those lawyers appearing for the State privately, with circumspection, and in a manner becoming of the standards of the profession.

“Such a course of action will avoid bringing the legal profession in Guyana into disrepute, which is entirely undesirable from an office-holder who has traditionally been recognised in the Common-wealth with the unofficial and honorific title of Leader of the Bar”, it said.

Immediate past Attorney General, Anil Nandlall has said that he made an effort during the transition between governments to make the AG’s Chambers aware of which cases were pending.

Shortly after government lost a land dispute case involving Toolsie Persaud Limited (TPL), Williams asked attorneys handling cases for the State without his knowledge and authorization to immediately contact his Chambers and to also provide a written report on the status of those matters.

Williams has insisted that his office had no knowledge of the case which will cost the state $1.7 billion in damages. According to him no file on the matter could be found.

The AG was not listed as a party to the proceedings. The government and its agent, the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, were, however, represented by Senior Counsel Ashton Chase and attorney Timothy Jonas respectively.

TPL was represented by Senior Counsel Robin Stoby.

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