The Guyana Bar Association has come out swinging against comments made by Deputy Director of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) Aubrey Heath-Retemyer which they claim are “unjustified attack[s] by an agent of the Executive on the independence of the Judiciary…in violation of the principle of separation of powers.”
In a statement released yesterday, the Bar Council of the Bar Association called for Heath-Retemyer to “immediately issue an unconditional retraction and apology” for statements reported in the July 22 edition of the Kaieteur News and to refrain from making any similar statement in future.
The Director has however told Stabroek News that it was not his intention to threaten anyone adding that he would not apologise for expressing an opinion which he holds.
“I have no reasons or means of threatening anybody. I was asked questions and I answered based on my perception. As an individual I am entitled to an opinion,” Heath-Retemyer said.
The article at the centre of the dispute is headlined `Resistance to accessing info from banks! Judiciary needs urgent training to understand seriousness of SOCU’s work –SARA Director’ and quotes the deputy director as saying that SARA is paying attention to the manner in which SOCU is being treated by the judiciary. He went on to express the belief that there is a disconnection between the judiciary and the national desire for an end to corruption.
According to the Bar Association’s statement the comment that SARA is paying close attention to the manner in which SOCU is being treated can be construed as a threat to the individual members of Judiciary who refuse orders sought by SARA, which is most alarming and of grave concern.
It continued by arguing that Heath-Retemyer’s comment that in countries like Brazil or Argentina “the legal people are more inclined to see justice prevail rather than apply the law” can also be taken as an attempt to direct the working and functioning of the Judiciary before stressing that the comment was “obviously” made in ignorance of the contents of Article 122.A (1) of the Constitution. This article provides that: All courts and persons presiding over the courts shall exercise their functions independently of the control and direction of any other person or authority; and shall be free and independent from political, executive and any other form of direction and control.
The Deputy Director is actually reported as saying “there are times when the society of a country demands so much of the legal system that there is a wave of change and the legal people are far more inclined to see justice prevail than they are to apply the law to stop legitimate progress in the direction of fighting corruption.”
The council however reminds that “as the Deputy Director of an important agency of the Executive, Mr. Heath-Retemyer is obliged to avoid any action, including the making of public comments, which can be taken as an attempt to direct the working and functioning of the Judiciary.”
Heath-Retemyer is however standing by these comments.
“I have spoken with people in the legal profession from other countries at conferences and I have sensed in them an urgency to address issues of corruption. I don’t feel the same way in this country,” he told Stabroek News adding that he does believe that for “Anti-Money laundering and some of these specialist areas there is need for training.”
“People of this country are expecting SOCU and SARA to do a lot and we are expecting the judiciary to do a lot as well,” the deputy director stressed.
The claim that there might be need for specialist training within the judiciary also did not find favour with the Bar which argued that the director should be aware that in Guyana, justice is done when the Judiciary applies principles of law to evidence proved in Court.
“Since the Judiciary does not exist to do the bidding of the Executive, the rights of Guyanese citizens and the application of the rule of law take precedence over the granting of remedies in a speedy manner to the liking of the Executive. Any insinuation that the Judiciary is somehow lacking in knowledge is unjustified, without merit and could dangerously shake the confidence of the public in the ability of the Judiciary,” the association stated.
The association argued that Guyana is a democracy where the law is applied by an independent and impartial Judiciary whose function includes restraining unlawful excesses by the Executive, including Heath-Retemyer and SARA/SOCU.
Further the Bar Association assured the public that if SARA is not satisfied with the legal requirements in discharge of its functions, then the fault does not lie with the Judiciary and/or its training.
“There is no place for comments like those made by Mr. Heath-Retemyer as reported. His comments should equally be condemned by the Government for not being its view of the Judiciary and by the citizens of Guyana as being an unjustified attack by an agent of the Executive on the independence of the Judiciary and in violation of the principle of separation of powers,” the association stated.
However Heath-Retemyer has noted that he cannot comment on whether SOCU’s requests for orders from the Court were properly prepared but stressed that SARA has technically competent people whom he trusts to prepare their requests in the requisite manner.