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PNCR Chairman, Rodney Commission disagree over “hearsay” evidence

Queen’s Counsel Jacqueline Samuels-Browne and PNCR lawyer and Chairman, Basil Williams chatting after their disagreement over the admissibility of hearsay.

Attorney-at-Law, Basil Williams Wednesday morning told Commissioners probing the bomb-blast death of Guyanese politician Dr Walter Rodney that the public hearings were accepting too much hearsay but they disagreed that Guyanese laws were being suspended to allow a free-for-all.

“The Commission has suspended Guyanese laws and so there is no filtering here. People can come in and say all kinds of things… basically is a free for all,” said Williams who is the Chairman of the Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR).

Williams’ intervention came moments after Pastor Eugene Gilbert testified that the then Peoples National Congress (PNC) administration of Forbes Burnham had refused him employment. He also claimed that he had been harassed and beaten up by members of the then PNC youth arm- the Young Socialist Movement (YSM).

But Commissioner, Seenath Jairam retorted by strongly rejecting Williams’ assertion. “We have not suspended the laws, we are bound by the laws. You are making very serious statements and will reflect badly on us. I don’t think you are being fair to us,” said Jairam. He explained that a Commission of Inquiry could make its own rules.  We will sift and determine the relevance. We have not suspended the laws.”

Commission Chairman, Sir Richard Cheltenham assured that the rules allowed for flexibility given the context in which the hearings were being held. But, that was no assurance for Williams who fired back that due to hearsay “people’s names would have been sullied and destroyed for eternity.”

Williams calmed down only after Commissioner, Jacqueline Samuels-Browne told him that he should be specific in his objections. The Queens Counsel explained that Guyana’s laws give the Commission of Inquiry to make its own rules of procedure and rules of evidence.  “You have said the rules of evidence can be relaxed and adjusted for the Commission of Inquiry and the rules maybe relaxed.”

“While your caution is accepted, when you raise these objection you should be specific as to the matter you are referring and not give a wide-ranging objection,” said Samuels-Browne.

She said the names that Pastor Gilbert called in his testimony were not hearsay but from his own knowledge and he sourced the information. To be fair, the names he has called were not of hearsay but of persons who are of his own knowledge or the source of information.