Home News Ram responds to CoI Chairman Cites procedural disregard and injustice as reason...
After being labelled childish by Prison Commission of Inquiry (CoI) Chairman, Justice James Patterson, Guyana Bar Association (GBA) President Christopher Ram has finally responded, explaining his Association’s reason for withdrawing from the Inquiry, which is seeking to determine what led to the deadly prison riot on March 3.
Last month, Justice Patterson scolded Ram, who had stormed out of the CoI, withdrawing the group’s participation from the investigation. Patterson had said Ram’s behaviour was childish.
At the time, Ram was of the view that some lawyers at the CoI were being sidelined, and more ‘privileges’ were being given to the Guyana Prison Service’s and Guyana Fire Service’s legal representatives.
In his response on Thursday, Ram said the Bar Association could not be allowed to be “perceived as compromised or complicit in an exercise that paid little regard to basic standards of procedure and fairness in this matter”.
He said the Chairman, the only legal person on the Commission, could not escape responsibility for the shortcomings that did a disservice to those who died or were injured or otherwise affected by the events of March 3.
Ram said the statement issued by Patterson, two days after he walked out of the CoI, failed to address the issues at hand, but rather was replete with personal attacks and invective.
“Since I only read about the statement in the press, I wrote to the Chairman on April 26 asking for a copy of the statement and for him to indicate to me from the detailed transcripts of the proceedings the instances where my conduct fell short of professional standards. So far, Mr Patterson has failed to respond to my request. Without engaging in any ad hominem accusations, I wish to clarify the position of the Guyana Bar Association on the decision to cease participation in the Commission,” Ram said.
He posited that after observing a number of weaknesses in the proceedings of the Commission days after it began taking evidence, the Bar Association on March 11, 2016 applied for and received standing from the Commission to appear before it. Some of the weaknesses, he said, were commencing public hearings without any adequate preparation, including placement of advertisements inviting witnesses; the absence of basic information gathering; the absence of Rules of Conduct; the non-appointment of a Commission Counsel; the selection of witnesses, and the conflicts of interest among Commissioners.
“In an effort to assist the Commission, the Bar Association soon thereafter provided the Commission with a copy of the Rules of the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry and other literature and authorities on Commissions of Inquiry, including the role and authority of the Chairman in a Commission of Inquiry.”
Ram said the Counsel for the Bar Association and inmates had expressed their dissatisfaction repeatedly, but out of public duty and an obligation to contribute to the search for the truth, continued its participation in the Inquiry. The situation became entirely intolerable when a key witness, the Senior Superintendent of Prisons was being examined by opposing Counsel, he added.
The Bar Association President said as a result, following consultations with Glenn Hanoman who regularly appeared at the hearings on behalf of the Association, and with other Attorneys at the Commission, it was agreed that the Association’s continued participation in the Inquiry only served to give legitimacy to a seriously flawed process.
Attorneys were particularly struck by the repeated and ill-informed comment of one Commissioner that the Commission was not a court of law and the insistence for procedural proprieties was time-consuming, unproductive and unnecessary. On the other hand, it was becoming increasingly apparent that the Commission was more concerned about an artificially imposed deadline rather than a genuine pursuit of its Terms of Reference.
“It is my contention that any Commission of Inquiry, and certainly one investigating the worst prison deaths in the history of any Commonwealth country, cannot be fettered in its search for the truth. Truth is often hidden and its discovery takes painstaking examination. Unless there is clear evidence of irrelevance, obstructionism or time wasting, Commissioners ought to carry out their duties diligently and fairly to all the parties with not even a semblance of injudiciousness, arbitrariness, capriciousness or ignorance of the relevant rules.
“The Attorneys representing the Bar Association did not take the decision to withdraw lightly and we remain committed to the cause of justice in this matter. We could not, however, allow the Bar Association to be perceived as compromised or complicit in an exercise that paid little regard to basic standards of procedure and fairness in this matter,” Ram said.