Ramjattan re-elected Bar Association head
4,000 abandoned court cases detected last year
Stabroek News
June 2, 2004

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Attorney Khemraj Ramjattan was unanimously re-elected head of the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) at its Annual General Meeting on Monday.

A statement from the GBA said that the Vice-Presidents are Sheila Chapman and Joseph Harmon while the Secretary is Emily Dodson.

In reporting on the year's activities, Ramjattan noted that twenty-five members of the GBA successfully completed training in the Guyana Court-connected Mediation Project in April, and are at present handling a host of cases through the mediation centre.

He noted that the project promotes the practice of mediation in collaboration with the formal justice system and consequentially eases the burden of the courts, and addresses the problems of backlog and delay. However, it "would not have been the big success it has been without the commitment and dedication from members of the Bar."

According to the president's report, the project will also result in better legal counselling since there will be an enhanced appreciation that litigation is not the only method lawyers have in ensuring that disputants feel satisfied.

Ramjattan said that continuing the previous Bar's commitment to the Chief Justice and the Registrar, the Bar assisted in sorting out abandoned matters, and realised some 4,000 such matters existing in the system. He singled out the contributions of Dodson and Abiola Wong for special praise while also noting that it was a collaborative work which benefited from the tremendous work of several GBA members.

The successful exercise, the report said, has led to a more realistic statistic of actual matters which have to be dealt with by the judicial system. He noted too that the Chancellor and the Chief Justice had expressed appreciation of the association's assistance in seeing the task through.

Litigation with Guyana Revenue Authority

Ramjattan said that the GBA should take pride in having blocked what he referred to as the "unreasonable application" of the provisions of the Fiscal Enactments (Amendment) No.2 of 2003 Act towards the "already dented finances of legal practitioners, at least for the time being."

According to him, this Act more than anything else in the Bar's recent history welded the membership into unity hardly seen before. A conservatory order was granted by Justice Claudette La Bennett after preliminary arguments were heard, and will continue until the determination of the substantive proceedings. Giving an update, he said by letter of February 24, 2004, the Attorney General requested of the Chief Justice that these cases be expedited on the ground that substantial hardship to the administration is being suffered by the non-collection of the revenue under this amending Act, which as stated in the letter amounts to some $13M per month.

The Bar Association president acknowledged the need to expedite cases and while offering no objection to the expeditious determination of Actions 600 and 601, he expressed agreement with many members that there ought not to be any special treatment of any case unless there is exceptionally justifiable circumstances. "This is not one characterised with such circumstances," Ramjattan contended.

He acknowledged the efforts of the legal firm of Hughes, Fields and Stoby in providing yeoman service in the preparation, research, pleadings and submissions of these cases, besides the contributions of accountant Christopher Ram and tax consultant and lawyer Godfrey Statia in comprehensively explaining the nature, and implications of the provisions of the Act.

Meetings with Chancellor, Chief Justice

The report to the AGM also noted that the Bar Association had "very successful meetings" this year with the Chancellor and the Chief Justice on matters having a direct bearing on legal practice. These matters included avoiding the practice of granting adjournments without very good reason; efforts with the Bar to establish a website for publication of decisions of the High Court, Full Court and Court of Appeal; matters concerning the forthcoming Commercial Court, Family Court and Motion Court.

The GBA also had an important meeting with Police Commissioner Winston Felix on such matters as station bail, private client/lawyer communication at police stations, proper signs showing rights of suspects at stations, handling of domestic violence matters, a new procedure for persons possessing evidence against corrupt policemen to communicate directly with the commissioner or his office, and new ID methods.

"The executive was most impressed with the new commissioner's approach to these matters, and expects a good professional working relationship to develop," Ramjattan reported.

The GBA continued this year to make public statements after due deliberation on issues concerning the rule of law. As in the previous year on the controversial Criminal Law and Deportee legislation, and the Yohance Douglas shooting, this year the two prominent statements dealt with the Fiscal Amendment Act and what is being called the Ronald Gajraj Affair. "The Bar Association must never be fearful in saying how it feels on matters and issues affecting the rule of law, or the legal profession. It must never cocoon itself and play safe by remaining silent on these issues, because a silence could mean a condonation," Ramjattan asserted.