Op Ed When the Magistrates’ Court becomes a political platform
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By Adam Harris

FOR the second time in a year, I have seen moves to jail people for doing their work. And it is not as if the work for which the term of imprisonment is sought is limited to that person alone.

The first instance that I recall involved Finance Minister, Winston Jordan. A foreign company moved to the courts against the government for monies owed. It secured judgement and moved to get its money. It so happened that this foreign company was indebted to a number of state institutions.
As is their right, from the time the foreign company moved to the courts, they applied to the very courts to garnish the funds that may be payable to the foreign company.
The courts handed down its decision against the government. Suddenly, the Minister of Finance became the party responsible for paying the debt. He was then targeted. Lawyers attached to the Opposition People’s Progressive Party moved to the court seeking to have the Finance Minister jailed for contempt.
He had delayed paying the money to the foreign company because he had to satisfy himself that Guyana would get its money from the foreign company.
I don’t know whether he was too slow in making the payments, but I do know that the Guyana Revenue Authority got its share of the award. The remainder of the money was paid to the foreign company long before a contempt motion was filed in the court and an order handed down to jail Minister Jordan for contempt.
President David Granger used his prerogative to waive the jail sentence against Jordan. The noise from the opposition was deafening; they so wanted to see a member of the coalition government end up in jail.

Even after the money was paid to the foreign company, which quietly collected but kept its mouth closed, the opposition elements kept insisting that Minister Jordan go to jail. They went back to court only to find out that the case had no merit since all accounts had been paid.
Put the shoe on the other foot. Anil Nandlall was dragged before the courts for stealing law volumes, property of the Attorney General Chambers. That case has been languishing for so long, even though there was nothing to prevent it being heard.
He was released on his own recognizance. That meant that he did not have to post monetary bail.
Then there is the Irfaan Ali matter. Ali has been slapped with nineteen fraud charges. He appeared in the magistrates’ court. From time to time he has been seeking postponements. The lawyers, for their part and with the support of the magistrates, succeeded in stalling any movement of the matter.
Ali, too, was released on his own recognizance.

Both Ali and Nandlall played the waiting game. They knew that if they got a favourable elections result the charges would disappear.
So we now have Lawyer Glenn Hanoman rushing to prosecute Chief Elections Officer, Keith Lowenfield. Two of his peers filed private criminal charges against Lowenfield.
Even before the writ was served, Hanoman announced that he was looking to jail Lowenfield for life. When Lowenfield appeared in court on Friday, on the three private criminal charges, Magistrate Faith McGusty set bail at $150,000 per charge.
It was not a case of Lowenfield not being known and therefore could not have been sent on his own recognizance. Nandlall was released on his own recognizance and his was not a private criminal charge.

There has long been talk of the jurists favouring one political party or the other in spite of talk about the judiciary being independent. Indeed, people would have their own political persuasion. One should not deny an individual the right to exercise his political opinion. So, there is independence as far as action is concerned.
Of course, one would not expect to see a judge or a magistrate on a political platform or making political statements. But one would certainly be surprised when, by their actions, judges make decisions that appear to have a political bias. And this is nothing unusual.
The lawyers representing Lowenfield explained what transpired in the court and I was not shocked. For starters, Glenn Hanoman was not ready to proceed with his case although he had signalled weeks ago that he had charges lined up for Lowenfield.
In court, he proceeded to announce that he would be calling Senior Counsel Neil Boston as one of his witnesses. One would have expected that the prosecutor would have informed his witnesses. And he did say that he had eight hundred witnesses.
Then something strange happened. Hanoman said that he was not opposed to bail, but then he told the court that he had a problem with Lowenfield having access to sensitive documents in the possession of the Guyana Elections Commission.
What was the recommendation?

He then proceeded to say that Lowenfield had property in every conceivable location in Guyana. What was the reason for that? Was Hanoman suggesting irregularity?
Both Attorney Nigel Hughes and Senior Counsel Boston described Hanoman’s address to Magistrate Faith McGusty as an address one would hear at Babu Jaan or at Lusignan at a PPP rally. Perhaps the rules of court have changed.

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