…as debate on controversial SARA Bill commences
Kicking off the debate on the controversial State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) Bill, in the National Assembly on Thursday, was Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams.
However, on standing to speak, the AG faced calls by Opposition Parliamentarians for him to apologise to Justice Franklin Holder – the judge involved in Williams’ latest public debacle.
“Apologise to Holder! Apologise to Holder! were the chants from the Opposition benches.
The Leader of the Opposition, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo had previously suggested that Williams be removed from his post or shuffled off to another Ministry for his inappropriate remarks against a High Court Judge.
“If the President’s investigations find that he [AG] did make those comments to a judge then it’s the President that has to discipline him. The President can do so by removing him from office, by doing what they have done before -to send, to reshuffle to another ministry – maybe the Ministry of Social Cohesion,” Jagdeo had said.
Williams’ incident occurred during the ongoing trial of Carvil Duncan, who had moved to the court to block the work of a presidential tribunal that was set up to determine whether he should be removed from his post as Chairman of the Public Service Commission in light of his criminal charges.
Representing Duncan was Attorney-at-law and former Attorney General (AG), Anil Nandlall, while the current AG Williams was representing the state.
Following an exchange between the Attorney General and the High Court Judge on March 23, Justice Franklyn Holder stormed out of the courtroom without adjourning the matter before him.
The AG was quoted as having said, “I could say what I want to say and however I want to say it, I have always been like that” and “…The last Magistrate who did that to me was later found dead.”
Williams has since said among other things that his statements were taken out of context and blamed Nandlall- who had issued a statement detailing his outburst- for what happened in court.
“Nandlall was the one who caused the problem…we can’t allow Nandlall to create this problem and leave it unresolved. The Judge and I will resolve this issue,” Williams insisted.
In fact, the Attorney General defended his actions and his statements. “Everything I dealt with in that short time was to disabuse the learned Judge’s mind that his interpretation was not (so),” he stated.
Williams believed that the Judge fell prey to “transferred frustration” as a result of Nandlall’s “barracking” of nearly three hours.
Justice holder in a letter of complaint to the Chancellor (ag) however, laid blame squarely at the feet of Williams whose behaviour he said was “insulting, disrespectful and calculated to scandalise and lower the authority of the Court in the face of the Court.”
The High Court Judge said he “took umbrage to his [Williams’] tone and what he was insinuating, which was in effect that the court was being selective in recording the evidence”.
The Judge said Williams responded by saying that the last person who told him what he should not say was a Magistrate and he was now dead.
According to Justice Holder “Mr. William’s behavior was highly contemptuous and deserving of him being cited for contempt in the face of the Court. Instead of doing so at that moment, I chose to leave the Bench.”
He continued “however, it does not mean that Mr. Williams’ behavior should go unattended. He is not only a Senior Counsel, he is also the Attorney General and leader of the Bar. His behaviour begs the question, whether he is respectful and aware of the functions and duties that attend these offices.”
Williams when questioned as to whether he would make an apology, told media operatives “I don’t know about apology.”
Justice Holder had formally complained to the Chancellor of the Judiciary that he abruptly walked out of the courtroom last Thursday as a result of statements made by the Attorney General.