AG says comments on Bar members relate to those who have not notified him of State cases

Basil Williams

Attorney General Basil Williams SC yesterday denied that he had attacked members of the Bar and says recent remarks he made pertained only to the failure of persons who have been entrusted with legal cases on behalf of the state to advise him of this.

Since entering office in 2015, Williams has on several occasions lamented not being aware of cases being prosecuted by private lawyers and which have in some cases led to large awards against the state.

On May 23rd, the Bar Council of the Guyana Bar Association said in a release that comments made by Williams that private lawyers who fail to hand over cases involving the state should be charged, were  out of place and unnecessary.

“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 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 Bar Association release said.

In his response yesterday, Williams said that the Bar Association’s remit is to uphold the rule of Law in Guyana and “must therefore be like Caesar’s wife-above suspicion.  It must not condone or appear to condone behaviour that injures the State or indeed the citizens of this country. There can be no difference between concealing law books and concealing files”.

He denied that he had attacked members of the Bar but said that as the government’s principal legal advisor he has a responsibility to the President, the Government and people of Guyana, to give the best legal representation possible. However, he said that legal representation of the highest standard cannot be possible when cases outsourced to private Attorneys by the former Attorney General of the last administration, are “kept in the bosom of those Attorneys unknown to the new Attorney General”.

He said that the issue was not the outsourcing of cases but the failure to inform his Chambers in a timely manner of outsourced cases in the possession of Attorneys. He said that the Attorney General’s Chambers under the last administration outsourced several cases to private Attorneys and that those Attorneys refused to hand over the cases and the Attorney General’s Chambers only became aware of those cases after judgment was passed in large amounts. He cited the Dipcon case (2016), where a $400 million judgment was issued against the Government and which he said was only told to him three months after judgment was passed. Williams had been accused of not acting swiftly on this matter when he became aware of it.

The statement yesterday from Williams said “Any prudent lawyer would, upon a change of Government, see it fit to communicate to the Attorney General’s Chambers if they are in possession of any Government matter outsourced to them by former Attorney General Anil Nandlall. It is simply a matter of honesty and courtesy, after all it should be up to the new Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs to determine if he wishes them to continue being Counsel on the matter… 

“The fact that Attorneys (chose) to retain possession of matters even after the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs wrote letters and made a public announcement that they must relinquish those matters, demonstrates an intention to injure the State”, Williams charged.  He said that letters were written after the Dipcon case to the following persons on 1st March 2016 requesting that if they were retained to represent the Attorney General in any matter to provide the Chambers with a list of matters and copies of the files-

*         Roysdale Forde

*         Ashton Chase, SC

*         Bernard De Santos, SC

*         Manoj Narayan

*         Neil Boston, SC

*         Ralph Ramkarran, SC

*         Robin Stoby, SC

*         Sase Gunraj

*         Nigel Hughes

He said that to date only Ramkarran, Hughes and Boston have responded to the letter.  Williams added that none of the abovementioned lawyers responded that they had the Toolsie Persaud Limited (TPL) -v-AG, where the Court awarded a judgment of $1.7 billion dollars against the State. The AG was not listed as a party to the TPL proceedings. The government was represented by Chase.

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