Forget that then Attorney General Charles Ramson described the Judicial Review Bill, designed to modernise the process by which challenges to executive and other administrative authority, as an attempt to bring the judicial process into the 21st century. Or that immediate past Attorney General Anil Nandlall described it as one of the most progressive pieces of legislation ever tendered in the National Assembly.
Or even that Ms. Clarissa Riehl of the PNCR quoted with approval Lord Denning’s description of the advent of Judicial Review into the English legal system as a “breath of fresh air”, and stated her own position that the introduction of Judicial Review into Guyana’s “legal system was a watershed moment for the people of this country”.
Forget too that then as AFC Member of Parliament Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan commended the Attorney General for bringing such an “excellent Bill” which he described as “bring[ing] to the citizenry more armoury and powerful weapons against the fight for an improper and unauthorised administrative action”. Giving support for the Bill “in its entirety”, Ramjattan noted that the Bill “cured the defects of the old and outdated prerogative writ procedures and the orders which could have been made under them”.
Or that in closing the debate on the Bill which received unanimous support of the National Assembly, then Speaker Ralph Ramkarran described the Bill as a “significant achievement for the citizens of Guyana”.
But let us not forget, even if he himself has, that then shadow Attorney General and now Attorney General Basil Williams also congratulated Mr. Ramson for bringing the Bill to the National Assembly. “This is such a good Bill” he said adding that “If the political will is there to go along with this Bill, public servants, Government officers, and other functionaries will be more disciplined and correct in their approach in dealing with citizens of this country.”
Yet when roles are reversed and the facilitating Rules, circumstances and need aligned for the Act to be brought into operation, the same Mr. Williams as Attorney General, was prepared to defy an Order Nisi by the Chief Justice (ag.) made on 15 December 2017 and made absolute on 28 May 2018 that he bring the Bill into operation “with all convenient speed and no later than July 31.” Stubbornly, Williams appealed the ruling on some of the most spurious and risible grounds which the Court of Appeal had no difficulty in rejecting out of hand.
So what does the learned Attorney General do? He goes to the Government’s mouthpiece and, citing even more absurd reasons, has signalled that he will not comply with the ruling of the Courts. The very fabric of the rule of law is undermined and destroyed when politicians feel they are somehow beyond the reach of the Courts and can act as they please.
Clearly, Mr. Williams’ attitude to the Judicial Review Act is hypocritical, opportunistic, anti-democratic and dangerous. He is playing games with people’s rights, the authority of the courts and the rule of law. The legal profession, civil society and the citizenry have no option but to show their abhorrence of this vulgar, crude and anti-democratic attempt to roll back citizens’ rights by no less a person than the Attorney General and the chief legal advisor to the Government. His actions are not unprecedented and he should not be allowed to drag the legal system back to a period of which no Guyanese can be proud.
There should be absolutely no delay in bringing contempt proceedings against Mr. Williams, hopefully led by the Guyana Bar Association, and the Court should have no hesitation in issuing a Contempt Order against him. Mr. Williams will no doubt play the populist game. The Court Marshalls and the Police must be equally resolute in executing the Order with whatever tools they find necessary.