October 1, 2016

Prisoners have right to Counsels during CoI – Ram

The Commission of Inquiry into the recent unrests at the Georgetown Prisons, which left 17 prisoners dead and several others including prison officers injured, began on Thursday with the testimonies of two inmates, however, President of Guyana Bar Association (GBA) Christopher Ram is concerned about the manner in which the proceedings are being conducted.
Following the day’s almost four-hour hearing, Ram expressed concerns to the media about what the witnesses were told in relation to the procedures of the inquiry.

GBA President Christopher Ram

GBA President Christopher Ram

The three-member Commission heading the probe into the unrests

The three-member Commission heading the probe into the unrests

“I don’t know if the witness was told before that he had a right to counsel but I certainly believe he ought to have been told,” pointed out Ram, who sat through most of the session in a “personal capacity”.
According to the attorney, “the Commission of Inquiry act is very specific that every person affected by a Commission of Inquiry has a right to counsel and cannot be denied a right to counsel”.
Section 13 of the Commission of Inquiry Act Chapter 19:03 states: “Any person whose conduct is the subject of inquiry under this Act, or who is in any way implicated or concerned in the matter under inquiry, shall be entitled to be represented by counsel or solicitor at the whole of the inquiry, and any other person who may consider it desirable that he should be so represented may, by leave of the commission, be represented in manner aforesaid”.
In addition, the GBA President outlined that there are other aspects of the proceedings which he thought should not have happened.
“There are some matters of procedures that I’m concerned about as well. I thought some of the questions were leading questions that ought not to have been framed the way they were framed so I’m pretty concerned,” he stressed. The attorney said that such practices can create problems in the findings of the Commission.
Moreover, Ram noted that the Bar Association is obviously interested in the Commission of Inquiry, since it touches on a very important development in the country. “We will be taking a keen interest,” he said, while adding that certain representatives of the legal fraternity and even members of the GBA will be attending the sessions.
In fact, he disclosed that there is currently a discussion ongoing as to whether the Bar Association should request ‘status amicus curiae’, that is, appear as a friend of the tribunal but with a right to ask questions. “… not only to ask questions but to object to certain questions being asked,” he stated.
During Thursday’s session, the Commissioner heard the testimonies of prisoners Dwayne Lewis and Errol Kesney who chronicled their recollection of the events that transpired during the three-day unrests.

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