Attorney General Basil Williams on Monday denied that the withdrawal of the conferral of Senior Counsel on Attorney-at-Law, Timothy Jonas had to do with Jonas’ years of experience and not because he had entered the political arena.
“I doubt that. We don’t operate like that. That might be coincidence. How do you know that he is entering the fray? It just shows you that it’s a coincidence,” Williams told reporters. He added that it was Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards who had submitted Jonas’ name for conferral of the title of Senior Counsel.
Jonas was called and informed by the Ministry of the Presidency that he had been picked to become a Senior Counsel, but after news broke that he had been part of a steering committee of the recently-formed political party, A New and United Guyana (ANUG), he was the following day informed that his name had been pulled off the list of Senior Counsel.
The Ministry of the Presidency announced that the others named Senior Counsel are Director of Public Prosecutions Shalimar Hack, and attorneys-at-law Stephen Fraser, Carole James-Boston, Robert Ramcharran, and Rajendra Poonai.
At the same time, Williams said only lawyers serving 30 or more years were being conferred with ‘silk’. “If you check, every year we’re dealing with people (who) are 30 going up,” he said. Williams noted that Attorney-at-Law Stephen Fraser has been practicing for 30 years and K.A. Juman-Yassin 39 years.
“Mr. Jonas cannot be in that group. He just has to wait,” the Attorney General noting that “He was not identified in the process that was used.”
On that note, Nandlall pointed out that Attorney-at-Law Forbes Burnham who was Guyana’s first Executive President, and other prominent attorneys had become Queen’s Counsel in less than 30 years. Records show that Burnham became Queen’s Counsel in 1960, 12 years after he had been admitted to practice in the United Kingdom in 1948.
Williams and Nandlall also disagreed over the role of the President in determining who is a Senior Counsel, with the Attorney General stating that “the President is the person who determines who is a Senior Counsel” after the Chancellor of the Judiciary’s recommendations. The Attorney General noted that the President has conferred silk on persons such as Fitz Peters and Juman Yassin who had not been on the Chancellor’s list. “The President has a discretion to correct wrongs”, he added.
Nandlall stressed that the conferral of silk should not be politicised. “This thing [conferral of silk] is an honour and from the time you leave it to politicians, it becomes the subject of a political exercise of discretion. There are certain things that the President has the power to do,” he said.
Former President Bharrat Jagdeo had categorically stated that as long as he had been President, Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes would never have been conferred Senior Counsel. Hughes appears to have been so far overlooked for silk by the David Granger-led administration. “‘I [Jagdeo] appoint senior counsel…’ He will never be a Senior Counsel once I am President and I don’t know whether Donald Ramotar will ever give him because he is a drug dealers’ lawyer,” Jagdeo had said of Hughes in October 2011.
Nandlall said the Attorney General merely serves as a conduit for the recommended persons to be dispatched to the President whose role in the process is merely ceremonial. “The President is unfamiliar and is unaware of the attributes of the lawyer. The judges are regarded as the institution that is qualified to assess the performance of the lawyers. The Attorney General is simply a conduit because judges ought not to have direct contact with the President so that system insulates the system from political interference,” said Nandlall.
Nandlall said he had been invited by former Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh before the 2015 elections and again by Chancellor Cummings in 2017 and “I’m told that my application was sent off and rejected by the President.”
Meanwhile, the Alliance for Change (AFC) described Jonas’ reported experience as “unfortunate” and said there was an opportunity to fix the issue. “We do have to hear from the other side. We only heard what was reported in the media. We would not want to be associated with any sort of victimization of anyone because of their political belief. That is something we hold very dear to us and it is important,” AFC executive member Dominic Gaskin told a news conference, today.
AFC Chairman Kemraj Ramjattan added that if the allegation is true his party would not back such a decision. “As much as I can say, if indeed what he [Williams] is saying, it is rather unfortunate that that happened and I am certain things could be placed to have that corrected. The impression I got is that indeed it is that the senior members of the judiciary did nominate him and indeed he has communicated that he would get it but I don’t know. It is an important aspect in honoring lawyers in the procession and let me just say at this state that it is unfortunate,” Ramjattan said.