In light of concerns about the procedures of the inquest, the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) was granted full
President of the Bar Association making his submissions before the Commission on Friday morning
participatory rights in the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that is probing the recent unrests at the Georgetown Prison. Those riots resulted in the deaths of 17 inmates while several others, including prison staff were injured.
The successful application was made by President of the Bar Association Christopher Ram, at the commencement of the second day of the inquiry. He pointed out that his application is very grounded, adding that the Commission is “severely handicapped” without counsel.
Chairman of the Commission, Justice James Patterson, granted permission after hearing oral submissions from the Attorney. Justice Patterson is heading the probe along with former Director of Prisons Dale Erskine and human rights activist Merle Mendonca.
Justice Patterson said “I’m well urged to grant this application, which I find well founded”.
Ram, in his 19-ground application, outlined that the Inquiry will have a substantial impact on the legal fraternity, of which the GBA is the recognised national professional body that speaks on behalf of the Attorneys in Guyana. He noted that the participation of the Bar Association will further the conduct of the Inquiry and contribute to its openness and fairness.
According to the GBA President, the Association and its members are prepared to play its part in ensuring that not only are the Terms of References set out by President David Granger achieved, but that the recommendations made serve the interests of the legal profession, its clients and most importantly, the nation.
“The Association anticipates that Inquiry will hear from relatives of the deceased, survivors of the events, staff of the prisons, members of the Judiciary and members of the Guyana Police Force and other stakeholders, and who would therefore have a direct interest in the work of the Commission. Most of these persons may not have legal counsel and the presence of Attorneys-at-law from the Association, can provide some assistance to those who have a right to such an attendance and representation,” he remarked.
However, before granting the GBA permission to be a part of the Inquiry, Justice Patterson enquired whether the services offered by the Association would be ‘pro bono’ (free of charge). Ram responded saying that this is something currently under discussion.
He further disclosed that an email was sent to all GBA members, urging them to offer their services ‘pro bono’ to interested parties involved in the Commission of Inquiry. The Bar Association Head noted that the role of the organisation is more of an “umbrella” appearance, while assuring that any counsel appearing at the Inquiry on behalf of the GBA will be doing so free of charge.
Moreover, the Chairman outlined that years of being in the judicial system have shown that the “more experienced” lawyers are seldom involved in ‘pro bono’ work. However, Ram explained that while this fact may be true, there are many attorneys who do pro bono work without it being publicised.
“There is a lot of pro bono work going on Sir… We don’t always get the credits we deserve. We accept the criticisms and we strive to make the profession and the society we serve, a better place,” he highlighted.
Nevertheless, he stressed that the Bar Association will have experienced members sitting in the Inquiry. He named seasoned Attorney Glenn Hanoman as one of the counsels to be appearing in the proceedings. Hanoman was the leading Counsel for the Commission of Inquiry into the death of Guyanese Historian, Dr Walter Rodney.
“Members of the Association have participated in various roles in the Linden Inquiry and more recently the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry, and bring valuable experience and expertise to the Commission,” he remarked.
However, Justice Patterson indicated to the GBA President that the Association is free to include young members to accompany the senior ones at the Inquiry as they can get their “blooding” from the ongoing proceedings there.
The day’s proceedings were adjourned until Monday, when the first two witnesses – inmates Dwayne Lewis and Errol Kesney – will return to the stand.
Following Thursday’s session, Ram raised concerns with the media about the two witnesses testifying without any representation. “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,” he pointed out.
In addition, the GBA President raised his concerns about other aspects of the procedures, such as certain “leading questions”, which he said ought not to have been framed the way they were.