Justice Ramlal accepts Amerindian Affairs Minister's apology over email
- reverses temporary custody order, recuses himself from case
Stabroek News
March 23, 2007

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Protesters outside the court yesterday railed against temporary legal guardianship of a three-year-old boy being granted to a woman who was not his mother. The protesters were asking that the child be returned to his 21-year-old mother, which was done yes

Justice William Ramlal said yesterday that he has accepted an apology from Minister of Amerindian Affairs Carolyn Rodrigues who admitted authoring an email, which, among other things, alleged that he mistreated an Amerindian woman who is in a court battle for her three-year-old son.

The judge yesterday recused himself from the custody battle between the Amerindian woman and another woman because of "adverse media publication and other publications."

However, prior to doing so, Justice Ramlal reversed the temporary legal guardianship he had granted to the other woman. He said this was because of a prejudiced report in the Stabroek News, which he inadvertently said in court was published in the Kaieteur News. The child has been returned to his 21-year-old mother.

The judge took umbrage at the section of the report published in this newspaper on March 7, in which the applicant in the matter was quoted as saying that she did not want custody of the three-year-old boy, but rather she wanted to have access to the child.

The woman had said that she wanted to have access to him as she "mind him foh three years and I have the love for him. I would go and collect he on Saturday and tek he back on Sunday.

I don't want she child, but I love he. I know she only get one and I get two children who done big," the woman had said.

Justice Ramlal said that part of the report had seriously prejudiced the applicant's cast just as the minister's email had prejudiced the respondent's case. The judge said the reporter had no right to interview the applicant and rather should have spoken to her lawyers, Jailall Kissoon and Rishi Kissoon. He said the applicant repeated to him what she told this newspaper stating that she had no problem travelling to Berbice to see the child once she is allowed access to him. According to the judge, the woman told him that if the child's mother wanted to give her the child she had no problem supporting him and ensuring that he goes to school and is well taken care of.

Justice Ramlal said the Stabroek News report and the utterance of the woman after the fact drastically changed the entire case. "It has changed because of the media who ought not to have interviewed the applicant knowing that the matter was sub judice," the judge said.

The judge said he had granted the woman temporary legal guardianship based on an affidavit before him, adding that when he had first interviewed the child's mother the court was of the view that her mental stability was questionable and after a second interview, the feeling remained. The judge said too much damage has been done to both parties' cases.

The judge made it clear that he recalled his earlier order solely on the applicant's change of story, which is in no way an indication that the court is weak.

He said he had to recuse himself from the case even though he could pronounce on the case fairly as he did not want anyone to say he was biased.

When he had pronounced on the email written by Rodrigues, the judge had said he would have summoned the minister to court to answer to whether she was author of the email or not. "If she [the minister] is the author of this email action would be taken, make no mistake," the judge had declared then.

The email, among other things, had claimed that the judge had mistreated and verbally abused the woman. "If there is anything more contemptuous that this then I don't know what is," the judge had said after reading part of the email in court.

The judge said he had never used the words mentioned in the email and added that the oath that he took when he became a judge did not allow him to.

Yesterday he said Senior Counsel Ashton Chase had made an application for the minister to appear prior to yesterday's date as her mother was ill in Region Nine and that she had plans to be in that region with her sick mother. He said he has been reliably informed that the minister is indeed with her mother. He said the minister appeared before him and accepted that she was indeed the author of the email, which had some "offending" sections. He said the minister told him she meant the court no disrespect nor was it her intention to put pressure on the court. The minister, the judge said, was very forthright and recognized the damage that was done by the email and apologized profusely to the court. She also promised to send an email to all the persons she sent the first email to, withdrawing the offensive parts. She also promised that she would ask those persons to forward that email to all the persons they would have forwarded the first email to. The judge said he hoped that was done adding that he thought it was magnanimous on the part of the minister to undertake to do so and that he accepted the apology wholeheartedly and considered that matter closed.

The case, which involves the child's 21-year-old mother and the other woman, saw the other woman contending that she was left with the child for almost three years and he was later taken away by the mother. The applicant moved to the court on the grounds that the mother was not taking proper care of the child and on February 27 the judge granted that applicant temporary legal guardianship of the child pending a probation report on the mother.

The child was yesterday returned to his mother after bidding his guardian a tearful farewell.

However, shortly after he was surrounded by a number of rejoicing women who had been protesting outside the High Court the child stopped crying. He was passed from one woman to the next, before leaving with his mother and her reputed husband.

The matter is expected to come up before another judge on April 10.