Chief Justice gets report on courtroom incident

Guyana Chronicle
May 30, 2001

CHIEF Justice Carl Singh has received a report in writing from Chief Magistrate Paul Fung-A-Fat on an alleged May 15 attack in the magistrate's courtroom.

The matter was raised with the Chief Justice and several others by the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) which had called for an investigation and corrective action with respect to the incident.

The Chief Justice yesterday said he immediately dealt with the report from the GHRA "in so far as the (woman involved) had referred to Mr. Fung-A-Fat and his omission to offer her protection."

Mr. Singh said the Chief Magistrate has responded in writing and this response would be made available to the GHRA.

The Chief Justice noted that Mr. Fung-A-Fat was not required to react to any other matter in the women's complaint, except the references to the Chief Magistrate.

The GHRA, in a statement last week, recalled that while awaiting a matter, a member of the public, a former legal clerk, was physically assaulted by members of the crowd assembled in the court in connection with the case involving TV 'talk-show host' Ronald Waddell.

An appeal to Mr. Fung-A-Fat to assist her to exit the courtroom as well as an appeal to a political leader, himself a lawyer, to speak to his supporters, both fell on deaf ears, the association said.

A female lawyer actively involved herself in the incident, verbally abusing the victim of 'causing trouble all morning', the GHRA said.

A Police Inspector finally rescued the woman at some risk to himself, it said.

"Allowing this incident to pass without action from the various legal authorities is tantamount to acknowledging that the courtroom is no longer the final refuge of the citizen", the association said.

In his response to the Chief Justice, Mr. Fung-A-Fat yesterday said that on the day of the incident he had disposed all the cases and left Waddell's for last because he suspected trouble.

After the matter was called he retired to his chambers where he heard a commotion outside and later saw some reporters and a clerk run inside with him, the Chief Magistrate said.

He said he then went outside and was accosted by the woman whom he said he knew from 1995 from other cases before him.

She then pushed her bag in front of the magistrate's face and asked him to search it, he said.

Mr. Fung-A-Fat said that as a result he told a cop to search her person and the purse since he had heard an allegation that she had a gun.

He also requested the Police to take her down to the "lockups" to give a statement and then spoke to an ex-Policewoman after which the crowd dispersed, the Chief Magistrate reported.

The GHRA has said that failure to act on this matter reinforces the sense of impunity of those who indulge in such lawlessness.

The GHRA called on the Chief Justice to investigate the behaviour of the Chief Magistrate.

"The GHRA further calls on the Bar Association to remind lawyers of their professional responsibilities.'

It said the unwillingness of observers to intervene in acts of violence against individuals is one of the disturbing features of many acts of violence in recent months.

"Failing to provide leadership in such matters, especially within the confines of the courtroom, further erodes respect for the profession as a whole."

The GHRA said it has invited the Chancellor of the Judiciary to remind judges and magistrates of measures available to them to deal with the difficult circumstances such trials may create.

It said the victim was awaiting the charging of a person for sexual assault on her daughter in the Stabroek Market in Georgetown.

Members of the family of the accused were among the persons who assaulted the victim, GHRA reported.

It said that while being physically assaulted she was told "...go back and tell them they can't get through...we running things".