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—challenges decisions of High Court Judge Priya Sewnarine Beharry
Approximately five years after he was sued for accusing the now Attorney General Anil Nandlall of stealing the Law Reports of the Commonwealth, Basil Williams – who had also served as Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs from 2015-2020, remains resolute in his attempts to have his name struck out from a Statement of Claim filed back in 2017.
Williams, in his capacity as the country’s Attorney General during a press conference on March 24, 2017, had indicated that Nandlall could be charged for alleged theft of the missing law books. On April 4, 2017, Nandlall sued the then Attorney General for $25M for slander, $25M for libel published during the press conference broadcast on the National Communications Network (NCN), $25M for libel published in the Guyana Times, $25M for slander published during an outreach programme in Berbice, and another $25M for libel published by Demerara Waves on March 27, 2017.
In his defence, Williams denied that he had libeled or slandered Nandlall, pointing out that he was speaking in his capacity as Attorney General, who is the custodian of the State Assets. It was noted that Nandlall was charged on April 27, 2017, however, the case was subsequently withdrawn by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
On Friday, May 27, 2022, Williams filed a Fixed Date Application (FDA) – Basil Williams v the Attorney General and Anil Nandlall – seeking relief under the Constitution of Guyana.
Williams is seeking a total of 10 declarations and orders from the High Court, among them, a declaration that the August 4, 2020 decisions of Justice Pryia Sewnarine Beharry not to strike him (Basil Williams) out as a party or to add the Attorney General of Guyana as a party or to strike out the Statement of Claim are unconstitutional, void and of no legal effect as they contravene Articles 144 (8) and 149 of the Constitution. Further, he has asked the High Court to order that the decisions of Justice Sewnarine Beharry be set aside.
He argues that the decisions are contrary to Chapter 6:05 of the State Liability and Proceedings Act which makes the State vicariously liable for torts of its officers such as a Minister and provide for the Attorney General to be sued and not the Minister of Legal Affairs whether in his personal or official capacity.
Additionally, the former Attorney General has asked the High Court to declare that Justice Sewnarine Beharry’s December 6, 2021 decision not to recuse herself from further hearing the Statement of Claim filed by Nandlall on April 4, 2017 is unconstitutional, void and of no legal effect. The High Court Judge has since fixed a date for the trial – May 30, 2022, however, Williams wants a conservatory order prohibiting her from sitting as the trial judge. He is also claiming damages in excess of $1M for breach of his fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under Articles 144 (8), 149 and 153 of the Constitution.
It was explained that while an injunction, filed alongside the Statement of Claim, was refused on September 13, 2017 on the ground that an injunction could not be granted against the Attorney General as an Officer of the State, leave was granted for Nandlall to file an amended Statement of Claim on or before September 25, 2017 but this was reportedly not done.
By November 6, 2017, Nandlall’s Statement of Claim was dismissed over failure to prosecute. According to Williams, due to his busy schedule at the time, he had relied entirely on his Attorney Patrice Henry for guidance, and it was Henry who assured him that the matter had been dismissed.
Williams said much to his surprise, he learnt that the case was again before Justice Sewnarine Beharry almost a year later but with Basil Williams named as the Defendant and not the Attorney General. Williams in the court documents said he did not appear before Justice Sewnarine Beharry between April 7, 2017 and November 6, 2017 on the advice of his attorney nor did he receive any memorandum, phone call or email from the judge’s registrar.
“… the Applicant was not informed by his Counsel Patrice Henry that the striking out of the Claim was appealed by the Second Named Respondent to the Full Court in order for him to attend or follow the proceedings nor did the Registrar of the Full Court inform the Applicant via phone calls, emails or memoranda of the hearing of the said appeal,” Williams contended.
The Full Court, nonetheless, on September 20, 2018 restored the Statement of Claim and returned the case to Justice Sewnarine Beharry on November 12. By the end of May, 2020 the then Attorney General filed a Notice of Application with the Affidavit of Ocelisa Marks, seeking permission to be added as a party to the proceedings but on August 4, 2020, the High Court Judge refused to grant the order. He maintains that the decision is unconstitutional.
“… suddenly and without prior notice on the 31st day of August 2020 within a month of me demitting office as Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs my said Counsel Mr. Patrice Henry served me with a Notice of Change of Attorney-at-Law which stated that he was no longer representing me in the said Action, by which time he was no longer prosecuting the Second Named Respondent in the Larceny by Bailee charge or PPPC MP Irfaan Ali who was charged with over twenty (20) charges and was in an obvious conflict of interest position since he did not tell me of the six Prosecutors therein he had emerged as the only counsel also. My aforesaid Counsel had also sued me as Attorney General for monies he was not entitled to and which I refused to pay him,” Williams further detailed in his fresh application.
Nonetheless, as the High Court Judge prepares for the commencement of the trial, Williams wants his name to be struck from the Statement of Claim.