Bar Association expresses concern over lawyer’s arrest By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
July 16, 2002

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At yesterday’s briefing at the Secretariat of the Guyana Bar Association (GBA): from left are: Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, GBA Vice President; Mr. Nigel Hughes, GBA President; and Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Basil Williams. (Picture by Corwin Williams)
THE Guyana Bar Association (GBA) yesterday expressed, in the strongest terms possible, its grave concern over the arrest of one of its members, Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Basil Williams on Saturday last.

Up to the time of speaking yesterday, Williams said he still did not understand why he was arrested by the Police and detained for more than two hours at the Brickdam Police Station. The Police have given no reason so far for their action, he stated.

Williams said his detention was grossly unlawful and he indicated that he would be pursuing the matter vigorously until it is resolved.

And President of the GBA, Mr. Nigel Hughes, told a news conference held yesterday at the GBA’s Secretariat, Brickdam that the Association considers this “a blatant act of intimidation of an Attorney in the execution of his professional duties”.

“We wish to express our greatest concern about the interference with a lawyer going about his normal professional duties in a professional manner,” Hughes said.

He noted that about 3:30 hours yesterday morning, the GBA faxed the Police Commissioner, Mr. Floyd McDonald, expressing “grave concern” over Saturday’s incident and enquiring of him a statement on the reason for the arrest of Williams “as well as the circumstances that necessitated a van-load of armed Police from Impact Base (Brickdam) attending his home”.

According to Hughes, the Commissioner responded to the fax at around 11:30 hours yesterday, indicating that the matter was under investigation.

Hughes also noted that the GBA has conducted intensive investigations into the circumstances of this “gross interference in the professional exercise of (Williams’ duties)”.

“We wish to register our strongest protest at this action (and) we have already informed the International Bar Association, the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, the head of the Trinidad Law Society, the President of the Grenada Bar Association; and the President of the Barbados Bar Association,” the GBA President told reporters.

Williams, who along with Vice President of the GBA, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan were also present at yesterday’s news conference, said that immediately prior to the incident on Saturday, he had gone to the Georgetown Public Hospital in response to the request of a client for legal representation. Williams said he met and conferred with the client who had been discharged from the Hospital that same day (Saturday).

(It is understood that the client, a woman, is one of the persons who participated in the unlawful protest action on July 3 when protestors stormed the Presidential Complex in Georgetown, during which Police shot dead two of the protestors. It is also understood that the client was shot in the head by Police that same day.)

Williams said he then left the hospital and returned to his private residence in Eastern Georgetown. Some two hours later a vanload of uniformed members of the Impact Base Police outfit attended his home and informed him that he had to go down to the Police Station.

He noted that he did not go down to the Station but instead called a senior member of the Police Force to enquire why the Police were in front of his home to arrest him.

He said that about an hour and a half later, after the vanload of armed Policemen had left, he was leaving his home with his wife and son to go shopping. He said two uniformed Policemen turned up at the same time and told him that he was required at the Brickdam Police Station.

Williams said he went to the Station where he was informed that he was under arrest. However, the GBA indicated that from the time Mr. Williams conferred with his client at the Georgetown Hospital to the time he was eventually released, there was no criminal offence disclosed at any particular stage.

“I am really hoping that we can have this matter resolved because it does not augur well for the profession. If you have lawyers who will be intimidated in the performance of their duties, then the rule of law and the search for justice would be seriously imperiled,” Williams said.

He also pointed out that what transpired on Saturday would, in no way, prevent him from continuing to perform his duties as a Lawyer.

“I will continue to discharge my responsibility as an Attorney-at-Law. I will honour the Oath I took to discharge my functions without fear or favour and nothing will stop me from doing this. But I certainly shall not perform or be involved in any illegal activities…,” Williams asserted.

Ramjattan, in brief remarks, concurred with Hughes and Williams and emphasised the fact that under the Constitution there is “a right to counsel” and that “every citizen of this country is entitled to representation from a lawyer of his choice”.

“There must be no interference or impediment to whatever are the duties he (Williams) was supposed to perform…(and) it does come at a rather surprising time, when the Police are under so much pressure; just to add some more pressure to have them doing this kind of thing that will affect lawyering especially at the criminal bar,” Ramjattan asserted.

“In very emphatic terms, I wish to also state that what transpired there does not go down very well with members of this Bar Association,” he added.

Hughes noted that the GBA Executive met with the Police Commissioner recently and discussed incidents such as that involving Williams. He said the GBA agreed at the time to establish a “cordial working relationship” with the Police.

“The Bar Association’s concern here is that this was an unlawful arrest. Certainly all the evidence we have available to us including an investigation conducted by myself indicated that, one, this was an unlawful arrest; two, this was an act of gross interference in the exercise of professional duties by an Attorney; three, it is clearly intended to be an act of intimidation and it has overtones of maliciousness; and four, we are particularly concerned that for an Attorney who left the Public Hospital when there was no suggestion of any hostilities, to be subject to a vanload of uniformed Police officers from Impact attending his private residence without any attempt made to contact him by phone or any other means to say -‘Mr. Williams, we would like you to come down to the station’…but (rather) to arrest an Attorney while executing his professional duties or after he had just executed his professional duties, is a matter that we do not treat lightly and we will be pursuing with it,” Hughes stated.