Human rights group urges probe of assault in Chief Magistrate's court

Stabroek News
May 26, 2001

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has written to all legal authorities concerned with the administration of justice, calling for an investigation and corrective action with respect to an incident which occurred in the court of the chief magistrate on May 15.

A press release from the GHRA yesterday said that on that date, while awaiting a matter a member of the public, who is a former legal clerk, was physically assaulted by members of the crowd assembled in the court in connection with the case involving talk-show host Ronald Waddell.

According to the release, an appeal to Chief Magistrate, Paul Fung-A-Fat, to assist her to exit the courtroom, as well as an appeal to a political leader, who is also a lawyer, to speak to his supporters both fell on deaf ears. The release said that a female lawyer actively involved in the incident, verbally abused the woman accusing her of "causing trouble all morning". An inspector who put himself at some risk finally rescued the woman.

The GHRA said that to allow the incident to pass without action from the various legal authorities was tantamount to acknowledging that the courtroom was no longer the final refuge of the citizen. It also felt that failure to act on this matter would reinforce the sense of impunity of those who indulge in such lawlessness.

The GHRA called on Chief Justice Carl Singh to investigate the behaviour of the chief magistrate and on the Guyana Bar Association to remind lawyers of their professional responsibilities. "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 release said.

The organisation has also invited Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard, to remind judges and magistrates of measures available to them to deal with difficult circumstances such trials may create.

According to the release, the woman was awaiting the charging of a person for sexual assault on her daughter in the Stabroek Market. Members of the family of the accused were among the persons who assaulted the woman and while they physically assaulted her she was reportedly told "...go back and tell them they can't get through... we running things."