Registrar verbally abused -court workers testify

Stabroek News
July 21, 1999

The work of the Supreme and Magistrate's courts was severely restricted during a significant period of the public service strike by people who alternately blocked the entrance to the buildings and on two occasions entered the buildings themselves.

This emerged yesterday when three employees of the Supreme Court and one official of the Magistrate's Court testified before the Commission of Enquiry into incidents during the 55-day public service strike.

The enquiry is being conducted at the Public Service Appellate Tribunal in Brickdam and yesterday's session saw testimony from Judicial Officer attached to the Supreme Court Registry, Rasheed Mohammed; Senior Registry Officer in the Supreme Court, Edward Norman; Narindra Ewingchow, office assistant within the Registry and Surujbali Singh, principal clerk attached to the Georgetown Magistrate's Court.

Led by counsel to the commission, Mortimer Cumberbatch, the registry employees testified about events on varying days during the strike.

Mohammed's testimony centred around events on June 7, when he and other employees were locked out of the Supreme Court.

He said that on the day in question, he had been prevented from entering the compound through the main gate by a group of persons, some of whom he had recognised as employees of the court. The crowd, he said had been manning the Charlotte Street and South Road entrances to the court and they had told him to "get out de place."

Mohammed said on June 8, he was able to enter and assisted the police in identifying jurors sitting at the Demerara Assizes, thus allowing their entry. He revealed that apart from himself, no other member of staff had been at work that day.

Meanwhile, Norman yesterday corroborated earlier testimony given by Supreme Court Registrar, Sita Ramlall, attesting that he had been present when she was verbally abused by First Vice-President of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), Dr Anwar Hussein. Norman, who is himself a member of the GPSU, testified that the incident occurred when the two of them had been on their way to the judicial section of the High Court.

Norman also testifed that Dr Hussein had been a part of a group of some 50 persons who entered the building behind Ramlall and disrupted work in a section of the registry that was not open to the public. When it was his turn to take the stand, Ewingchow said that a group of persons had entered the registry.

He swore that Dr Hussein had been among the crowd which had made a lot of noise and had started opening doors within the office, while calling on employees to come out.

He testified to seeing Ramlall emerge from her office and said that he had heard her ask the crowd to leave the office. He, too, recalled hearing Dr Hussein threaten to deal with the registrar and said that both he and the registrar were subsequently pushed by members of the crowd.

His push, he said, had come at the hands of a man who came out of the Accounts section but was no employee of the registry. The crowd left the registry about half an hour after their entrance and Ewingchow remembered being directed by Ramlall to close the doors.

The office assistant said that while carrying out these orders he had heard Dr Hussein say something else to Ramlall but he could not be clear on what exactly was said.

Singh, the final witness for the day, testified about events surrounding the specific dates on which GPSU executives had to appear in the Magistrate's Court to answer charges.

He testified that on the days Dr Hussein, GPSU President, Patrick Yarde and General Secretary Lawrence Mentis had to appear in court, the building had been surrounded by crowds. The crowds, he said, were generally quiet and only became noisy when the union officials entered and left. He said this behaviour continued until the end of the case after which the crowds departed.

However, he said, on June 4 a crowd of persons had invaded the Magistrate's Court chanting "Out de place, no work". The crowd, numbering around 40 persons, included three persons whose names Singh called. He said that the crowd disrupted work and that by 11:45 am everyone had left, including himself.

Singh recalled that on June 7, no one had been able to enter the compound because someone had attached a strange padlock to an existing chain and padlock on the gate. He said that police actions in cutting the padlock had little effect since a man attached another padlock shortly after they left. At this time, he said other police ranks were in the Magistrate's Court compound, but they did nothing to stop the crowd.

Other police ranks, he said, returned and cut the padlock a second time, upon which the crowd reportedly formed a human barricade in front of the gate.

Singh said that the next day, police erected a barrier outside the gates and facilitated the entry of some members of staff. Some members of the staff, according to Singh, stood on the pavements and as a result only himself and a few other officers were tasked with managing the magistrates' offices.

The official further reported that from June 7 to June 23, the end of the strike, the Georgetown Magistrate's Court was unable to function due the absence of clerks. During this time, cases were directed through the Providence Magistrate's Court.

The enquiry will resume this morning and yesterday Director of Public Prosecutions, Denis Hanomansingh, who is representing the police, indicated that he would be producing police witnesses with knowledge of the events that happened outside the courts.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples