As the Commission of Inquiry into the recent unrests at the Georgetown Prison continued on Thursday, the Guyana Bar Association (GBA), which was given full participatory rights in the probe, indicated that the inmates going before the Commission to testify should have legal representation.
The matter was raised by GBA President, Attorney Christopher Ram, who stated that in the interest of fairness to the inmates, the men should be informed of their right to legal representation during the Inquiry. He noted that it should be up to the prisoners whether they want to waive this right or not.
“They are human beings and are not denuded of their fundamental rights… I am therefore appealing that we ensure that everyone at least knows his or her rights and let them make that decision,” Ram stated, while adding that they would not know of this right unless being told of it by the Commission.
In fact, the GBA President pointed out that members of his Association are willing to provide pro-bono (free of charge) services, but noted that this service will not be offered to everyone appearing before the Commission.
“The Bar Association is not prepared to represent every person that appears,” he clarified. Moreover, Ram suggested that the Commission recommend to the Attorney General and the Public Security Minister that it facilitate legal representation for the inmates.
“These persons died or were injured while in the custody of the State. The State has an obligation to every one of these persons. The State has resources and I believe the State should be invited to provide Counsel for every person who needs representation or at least to provide the resources,” the Head of the Bar Association remarked.
Attorney Selwyn Pieters, who was appointed by the State to represent the Guyana Prisons Service and the Guyana Police Force, supported the suggestion put forward. “I agree with (Ram) that Counsel should be provided for everyone that comes here and the State should pay for that Counsel,” Pieters said, but added that this should be put into a motion and formerly submitted to the Commission.
In response, the Commission’s Counsel, Attorney Excellence Dazzell referred to the fact that in its application to participate in the Inquiry, the Bar Association had said it would provide pro-bono service. She noted that the GBA should step up now.
Ram had stated that the role of the GBA 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.
“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.
The inquiry continued with the testimony of prisoner Desmond James, who testified on Tuesday about the events of March 2 and 3, that led to the death of 17 inmates and several others injured, including prison officers.