Saturday, April 23, 2016

SELWYN A. PIETERS, LAWYER AND NOTARY PUBLIC, RESPONSE TO PRESS RELEASE OF THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO THE CAMP STREET PRISON DISTURBANCES AND SUBSEQUENT DEATHS

on April 22, 2016 on or about 1:50 p.m. whist Chief Prison Officer Patrick Crawford, of the Guyana Prison Service, was in the witness box I was handed a document on the Commission’s letterhead titled “PRESS RELEASE”. That release had already been circulated to the media without my knowledge. 

When the Chairman berated me publicly on April 05, 2016 for a matter that really was put to bed the following day by the very News Source, it distracted me from my focus on a witness. See, Commission Chairman and Prison Attorney clash over video evidence, April 5, 2016 (date accessed: April 22, 2016). Today, another witness Mr. R. was to provide evidence and I could not continue as I felt sick to my stomach reading the Retired Justice James Patterson's press release that he put out to the public and provided to me in the presence of my client’s representatives and a witness in the midst of the proceedings in open court. These are two actions on the part of that retired justice that created a hostile and poisoned atmosphere in his courtroom. This action on April 22, 2016 is akin to serving a person with a writ whilst a witness is in a witness box in a courtroom: See, Curling v. Victoria Tea Co Ltd., 38 C.H.R.R. 216, 2000 CanLII 20870 (ON HRT), 2000 CanLII 20870 (ON H.R.T.).

Judges speak through their Judgments not  through a"Press Release" that is provided to the media and then served on counsel in that very Judge Courtroom in the presence of a witness, the media, the public, the other side and all present.  

Putting out a press release without using the formal processes that the law provides to a Justice to deal with any perceived issues in his/her courtroom brings the administration of justice into disrepute. It means an attack on the integrity of "Officers of the Court", the very Court that the Justice has inherent jurisdiction to control its processes.

James Patterson wrote:

These proceedings unfortunately have given rise for what we know in the vernacular as “grandstanding”.  Liberties were taken. Mr. Selwyn Peters, Counsel for the Joint services and Fire Service, was ferried away by his enthusiasm and made statements which, by any objective view, constitute a breach in civility and an affront to the Commission.  In very short order Mr.  Peters approached the Chairman and was profuse in his apologies for his delict. The apology was unconditional and was well received.

Mr. Christopher Ram, on the other hand, who appeared for the Bar Association as an interested party obtained “good standing” from the Commission to conduct his brief.  Mr. Christopher Ram was equally fierce on behalf of his clients, an amorphous lot though they be. The Commission has been unusually charitable to Mr. Christopher Ram whose forte clearly is not the art of the advocate.  His appearance has been pro bono, for the public good, and such appearances are clearly to be commended.  The Commission applauds Mr. Christopher Ram for his initiatives.

In his haste to issue a press release attacking counsel for all sides appearing before him he could not even get the spelling of my name right. It is Pieters not Peters. I also have several comments to make in response to retired Justice James Patterson’s press release about me. 

Throughout the two weeks that the inmates of the Georgetown Prison were testifying before the Commission of Inquiry, inflammatory comments were peddled in the press that attacked the reputation and integrity of senior members of the Joint Services who I was retained to represent. We could not allow that to stand unchallenged.

As was reported in the media, on Day 11 of the Commission’s sittings inmate Collis Collison took the witness stand. Allegations were made about the conduct of officers that were untrue. I clarified the truth in respect to the conduct of the officers with reference to a video that existed that presented objective evidence of what took place at the material date, time and place. I went up to the Commission’s Secretariat that day with my laptop and showed the Chairperson Justice Patterson the video from my computer. The Commission Counsel inserted a DVD into her device and showed a short clip that did not correspond to the very label on my disk. I followed up with the Guyana Prison Service representatives and was told that the entirety of all videos including surveillance videos were turned over to the Commission of Inquiry and soon after a request was made to the Guyana Prison Service.

On day 12 of the Commission Sittings (when Carl Brown was in the witness box) the Chairman entered the hearing, and similarly to April 22, 2016, where I was not given advance notice of a press release being sent out by the Commission, presented an article to me from News Source, that spoke to a video that existed that was shown to the media and asked me to comment. I commented on my interaction with the press the day prior. The Chairman was upset and the entire interaction between him and I was captured nationally and internationally because of the matter in which he chose to address it. I apologized to him because it is in my nature to apologize to any person that I may have unintentionally offended. I also have a lot of respect for the panel collectively.

I disagree with Justice Patterson, for reasons that will be seen below that there were any breaches of civility on my part. I could have ignored his comments and conduct or respond to it and I responded appropriately and professionally.

Justice Patterson never checked with the source of the article. News Source had obtained and seen the video of the encounter with Collison and the Officers well before I was retained by the Prison Service or even in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana:

News Source saw a copy of the video of the prison unrest and reported on it long before Mr. Pieters became involved in the Commission of Inquiry and long before he arrived in Guyana.

The Attorney never showed any video related to the Prison Unrest to News Source.

News Source was able to view a video recording of the prison unrest that appeared to have been captured by a prison officer.

See, Commission Chairman and Prison Attorney clash over video evidence, April 5, 2016 <http://newssourcegy.com/news/commission-chairman-and-prison-attorney-clash-over-video-evidence/>  (date accessed: April 22, 2016).

On the day that the Chairman was upset about the video he allowed me to be verbally abused by Carl Brown. I also challenged inflammatory statements Carl Brown made about Commissioner Erskine. The Chairperson, instead of warning Mr. Brown, responded he cannot control what comes out of a witness mouth. 

Mr. Dexter Todd later that day launched an attack on me. Go to 7:20 of this video and onward: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMkub_ZqMV0>.  All of that was in front of the National and International media and I have the video footage of it all. I was NOT allowed to respond to Todd’s abusive missive “I will not hear you” was Justice Patterson’s words. 

The Secretariat and the Commission Chairperson himself after I was retained as counsel continued to by-pass counsel, instead communicating directly with the Prison Director and the OC of the Georgetown Prison. I was advised by the OC Mr. Pilgrim that the COI had all of the relevant video footage. I believed him and still do have no reason to doubt the veracity of what he told me. I learnt that the videos was sent to the Commission in electronic downloadable format. It appears that the entirety of a video was not downloaded. When I was told of it by Commission Secretary, I directed the Prison Officer assigned to assist me to immediately turn the DVD over to the Secretariat. During the exchange with the Chairperson when I explained to him my understanding on the video issue he said in a very condescending tone “I chose to believe you.” I made it very clear as a lawyer and an officer of the Court if he did not believe me I was prepared to resign immediately. My integrity and my word is what I have as a lawyer and I will not allow it to be impugned when there was no evidentiary basis to support an assertion. I did not know the Commission did not download the entirety of the prison video and that was my word. My word is my bond.

I mentioned to the Chairperson that this issue of communicating directly with the client outside of the knowledge of the lawyer poses difficulties and that I should be copied on all communications to my client. That practice of communicating with the clients without copying me continued. It presented difficulties to me and the clients. An example being an ill officer being directed to report to the Commission the next business day whilst on sick leave. Another is the Director of Prisons being directed to provide evidence to the Commission that very next business day without speaking to his lawyer or providing a will-say statement.

I addressed that issue with the Commission on April 08, 2016:

On another note, a copy of the letter from the Commission Chairperson to the Director of Prisons was forwarded to my attention. Unfortunately, that schedule that the Commission sent to the Director after its counsel left the jurisdiction is simply not just. No discussion was held with the Prison Counsel in the case management conference in respect to the Guyana Prison Services witnesses. Those witnesses will be made available from April 18, 2016. 

It is the usual protocol that represented clients are communicated with through their counsel, while I cannot dictate to a Tribunal how it wishes to conduct its affairs that is how I know it since I have been practicing law. I am uncomfortable that I usually learn of the Tribunal’s correspondence to my clients only after the clients have forwarded them to me. That is not and cannot be acceptable in any quasi-judicial or judicial forum. I will be much obliged that I be copied on any correspondence to my clients so that I can properly be accountable to the Tribunal as an Attorney-at-law.

The Chairperson wrote:

The Chairman of the Commission, caught in the cross fire of the fierce contending parties, has on a regular basis incurred the wrath of both counsel that is to say, Mr. Christopher Ram and Mr. Selwyn Pieters, as each pressed their client’ case with understandable vigour.”

In respect to me, my significant concern that appears to be Mr. Ram’s concern is the chairman’s  inflexible approach in arbitrarily imposing a 20 minute time-limit for cross-examination of witnesses when some witnesses would, obviously require more time than others. In the following days after the 20 minutes time limit was imposed the Commission either sat half-day or not at all.

The chairman Justice Patterson issued a press release that does the profession in Guyana harm. The instant where and when Mr. Ram walked out of the Commission of Inquiry where he believed that his work was hampered is not new. A lawyer similarly walked out of the Linden Commission of Inquiry in 2012. In terms of the 2012 walkout I was reminded by another colleague present that "Mr. Hughes withdrawal was after a bizarre and excessive reprimand from the Chairman. On his return his cross examination by Minister Rohee was severely and frequently unfairly interrupted and curtailed by Mr. Knight."

Lawyers walked out of the Rodney Commission of Inquiry when they were subjected to bias and excessive interjections by the Chairperson and the panel members. In the Linden COI and the Rodney COI, these issues were not dealt with by Press Releases but within the jurisdiction of the COI and resolved so that the lawyers could return and protect their clients interest. In other words, the Commissions recognized the lawyers had a job to do and struck a balance that worked for all concerned.

Prior to the issuance of the "press release" from Justice Patterson I reached out quietly to Christopher Ram and the Chairperson, through his Secretary, to see whether the gap could be bridged. Mr. Ram's response was positive. I then wrote to the Commission through its Secretary:

From: Selwyn Pieters
Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2016 7:36 PM
To: Teshanna Cox
Cc: Christopher Ram ; Glen Hannoman; Law Office of DEXTER TODD ; Selwyn pieters
Subject: Guyana Bar Association President Withdrawal

Good evening Ms. Cox,

We have been down the road in other Commissions where counsel left a Commission of Inquiry in a huff in the heat of battle over objections sustained or other rulings by the Commission. That occurred today in another COI. Obviously the Guyana Bar Association is an important stakeholder. Some middle ground may be able to be reached in a pre-hearing conference in Chambers. I have spoken to Mr. Ram and he is willing and able to attend in Chambers to meet with the Commissioners. I am reaching out to see whether or not the Commissioners can hold a pre-hearing conference tomorrow with all counsel.

I have enclosed the clips from the Linden Commission of Inquiry:

Nigel Hughes withdraws from Linden COI after refusing to retract inappropriate remark
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_57Io17aREo

Attorney Nigel Hughes returns to Linden Commission of Inquiry
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvXitIc4PGA

I am a member of the Guyana Bar and member of the Guyana Bar Association so I do respect the work of the Bar Association and it contribution to the COI vis-a-vis its members.

Please convey my thoughts to the Commission.

The very evening of April 20, 2016, Commission Secretary responded to me as follows:

4/20/16, 9:04 PM - Ms Tashana Cox: Hi
4/20/16, 9:04 PM - Ms Tashana Cox: I just spoke to Chairman
4/20/16, 9:16 PM - Selwyn Pieters: And what is his thinking?
4/20/16, 9:43 PM - Ms Tashana Cox: He said no
4/20/16, 9:43 PM - Ms Tashana Cox: He thinks that Ram's statement was made to publicly embarrass the court
4/20/16, 9:43 PM - Ms Tashana Cox: Well...
4/20/16, 9:43 PM - Ms Tashana Cox: And if he wants to re enter, he needs to be a man enough and make a public announcement
4/20/16, 9:44 PM - Ms Tashana Cox: Commissioners were pretty peeved this afternoon about the entire incident
4/20/16, 9:44 PM - Ms Tashana Cox: Chairman especially was upset at Ram's "short fuse"
4/20/16, 9:45 PM - Selwyn Pieters: I understand that why I sent Hughes YouTube video from Linden COI so that he knows to apologize to the panel.
4/20/16, 9:52 PM - Ms Tashana Cox: Very well. Let's see how that goes.
I heard nothing further from the Commission until the issuance of the Press Release.

Professionalism goes both ways. In all of the instances cited above, I was not treated professionally or with civility. 

Little to no legal recourse exist to deal with a retired Justice who has crossed the line with lawyers and his colleagues. 

I have been through worst abuse in my legal career and I will never ever “yield to the conduct and manners of the gutter.” Fortunately, for the period in question, all of the video footage are on my youtube channel and all and sundry are welcome to review each and every minute. The only time I showed some frustration was on Day 12 when I was not only subject to what was described above but also had my cross-examination of an important witness curtailed to 20 minutes and in language that was not particularly polite. Again, and thankfully, the entirety of these footage are on my youtube channel.



END