Attorney General Basil Williams yesterday clashed again with his predecessor Anil Nandlall over his performance in the courts as well as the planned establishment of a local law school.
“Can I ask my learned friend to name the cases I have lost?” Williams enquired during his contribution to the final day of the budget debate and he then proceeded to provide figures for the cases he has won and lost for the year.
He said in 2018, out of 277 cases, 118 were either dismissed or discontinued, 110 were won by the Attorney General’s Chambers, with or without costs, and 68 were lost. “So, where is the losing Attorney General’s Chambers? Our winnings doubled what we lost,” he said.
He added that among the several high-profile cases thrown out by the High Court were the challenge by PPP member and Elections Commissioner Bibi Shadick to the Minister of Communities and the Chief Election Officer, which he said was an attempt to prevent the holding of the November 12th Local Government Elections.
Turning his attention to the Court of Appeal, he said among his big wins was the upholding of President David Granger’s decision to appoint retired judge James Patterson to the office of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) as constitutional.
Williams then proceeded to list several cases won at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), inclusive of the upholding of the presidential term limit.
“I want him to show me where they won comparable cases in the CCJ under the tenure of the Honourable Member. What he did was to leave us with an enormous amount of penny judgements…,” he said above heckling.
At times Williams’ presentation could not heard given the loud exchanges between the Members of Parliament on the government and opposition sides. Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland had to repeatedly bang his gavel and though the clamour subsided, the peace was short-lived. Within seconds, the shouting would resume.
“Mr. Speaker, the Attorney General’s Chambers has been very, very active. We don’t have time to be running after fake news. Our record speaks for itself…,” Williams said before citing more cases.
Earlier, Nandlall, who made the first presentation on the final day of the debate, charged that cases were just one of many things Williams is responsible for losing.
“Mr. Speaker, it is one thing to say that you lose law books; it is another thing to say that you lose cases; it is another thing to say that you lose the chairmanship of your party but when you lose a whole law school, that is cause for concern. How do you lose a law school? I do not know, Mr. Speaker,” Nandlall told the National Assembly.
Williams, who spoke after him, blamed Nandlall for delaying the establishment of a law school here and again accused him of conspiring with the Chairman of the Council for Legal Education (CLE) to frustrate the development. “The Joseph Haynes Law School (JHLS) was subjected to another shifting of the CLE’s position to deny Guyana its rights to establish a law school. However, we will continue pressing the CLE, the Bar Association, the Judiciary, the Department of Law at the University of Guyana and the opposition for their support of the establishment of the law school,” Williams said.
“He [Nandlall] wrote, he emailed the Chairman of the CLE to tell him don’t worry with this school. We didn’t get permission to support it. That is what he did and that is why he had to leave in disgrace,” Williams said to shouts of “shame” from his fellow government members.
Williams once again pointed out that Guyana remains restricted by the CLE to a 25-student quota at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago, while both Trinidad and Jamaica are not similarly restricted. “If they are gonna do that… let’s see what’s gonna happen,” he said.
He assured that once the existing quota is removed with the establishment of a local school, the hardship suffered by young Guyanese who study in Trinidad will end.
CLE Chairman Reginal Armour SC has said that the law school, which is a joint venture initiative, is a non-starter under CLE Treaty.
“The concept of other persons forming a law school and bringing them to the Council for approval doesn’t fit within the Treaty and that is one of the points we have made to the Attorney General, that his government needs to reconsider in terms of the proposal that has been brought to us so far,” Armour told reporters in September shortly after the 50th meeting of CLE concluded here.
In January, 2017, the Guyana Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the University College of the Caribbean and the Law College of the Americas for the construction of the local law school. It is expected that the investment will cost approximately US$75 million.
Williams had repeatedly insisted that approval was given to Guyana and that government was going ahead with its plans. Last year land at University of Guyana’s Turkeyen Campus was identified for the construction of the school.
And while Nandlall said “work appears to be done in an ad hoc and a piecemeal manner” by the Attorney General’s Chambers, Williams used his presentation to rebut this assertion.
He insisted that the Chambers have been very busy during 2018 and proceeded to mention some of the initiatives that were executed, particularly by the Drafting Section. He noted that several bills, including the Suicide Prevention Bill, which seeks to repeal the law that criminalises suicide attempts, the Movable Property Security Bill and the Data Protection Bill will be brought before the National Assembly in 2019.
After informing of the capacity building initiatives executed during 2018, he provided information on the work of the departments which fall under his responsibility.
The work done in the areas of state assets recovery, anti-corruption and anti-money laundering did not escape his attention.
He said that the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) is working with the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to recover revenue lost through gold shipments leaving Guyana. “There have been several cases where amounts declared at the Cheddi Jagan Airport was vastly different to what was declared at JFK, in New York,” he said, before adding that the agency is also seeking cooperation with Brazil to identify and “if possible” recover gold held in Brazil due to illegal activities by Guyanese smugglers.
Meanwhile, Nandlall, who was very critical of the work done in the legal arena, highlighted government’s failed promise to deliver constitutional reform.
He pointed out that after four years, this is yet to be realised. “Over the past four years, all we have had is a report done by a committee established by the Prime Minister… That is the sum total of the government’s effort in four years in delivering one of its major campaign promises,” he said.
He also highlighted government’s failure to constitute the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) a year after its life had ended and to appoint coroners to hear inquests three years after amendments to the law were hastily passed in the National Assembly.
Nandlall also expressed his concern over judges and prosecutors being trained together in alternative sentencing and other areas under the Justice Sector Strengthening Programme.
“I wish to emphasise that it is improper for judges and prosecutors to be trained together. The appearance violates the cannons of natural justice. In our adversarial justice system, the prosecutor and the judge have different roles to play; they are not representing the same interest. I call for an immediate cessation of this incestuous practice, which I see recently developing,” he said.
Nandlall also opined that the budget is not one that is aligned with the realities of what is transpiring on the ground.
He pointed out that aside from all the social and economic issues, the public is anxious to know the plans for the oil and gas sector.
“Yet, the minister is his budget mentions not a word about local content legislation or the Petroleum Commission of Guyana Bill. These two pieces of legislation will constitute the foundation necessary to properly manage and scrutinise this sector to ensure that Guyana gets its fair share,” he said, while noting that their absence are “gaping” holes in the budget presentation.