Former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams has filed an application asking for High Court Judge Priya Sewnarine-Beharry to recuse herself from the $125 million lawsuit filed by Anil Nandlall.
On April 4, 2017, Nandlall had filed a Statement of Claim for damages for libel and slander allegedly published by Williams at a Press Conference at the state-owned National Communication Network (NCN) to the effect that he would be charged for the missing law books, unaccounted for during his tenure as Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General between 2011 to 2015.
Nandlall claimed over $25M for libel published on March 24, 2017, at a press conference hosted at NCN; damages of more than $25M for libel published in the Guyana Times newspaper on March 25, 2017; damages of in excess of $25M for slander published during an outreach programme in Berbice on March 26, 2017; and damages of in excess of $25M for libel published by Demerara Waves on March 27, 2017.
However, in response, Williams denied that he had labeled or slandered Nandlall as he argued that he spoke in his capacity as Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, who was the custodian of State Assets and had a duty to give transparent answers on his stewardship.
On April 27, 2017, Nandlall, who is now Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, was charged by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) with larceny by bailee of the 14 missing law books.
Justice Sewnarine-Beharry on November 6, 2017, dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds of non-compliance with the Civil Procedure Rules, failing to comply with the Case Management Conference timelines, and wasting the court’s time.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, Nandlall had approached the Full Court and appealed Justice Sewnarine-Beharry’s ruling. However, the Full Court sent back the matter to Justice Sewnarine-Beharry.
On December 5, 2019, Justice Beharry ordered that the trial of the matter be stayed until criminal proceedings are completed and have been adjourning it from time to time. The case is expected to come up this month.
Further, the former Minister’s then Attorney-at-law Patrice Henry appeared on December 5, 2019, before Justice Beharry, when she also stated that should the criminal charges be dismissed, then the libel suit will be sustained and converse that if Nandlall is convicted of the criminal offence, then the libel suit will be dismissed.
“The said staying of the trial of the matter until criminal proceedings are over, by Justice Beharry raises the likelihood of bias on her part and a pre-determination of the issues raised by the Claimant Mohabir Anil Nandlall in his Statement of Claim,” Williams said in court documents.
Williams added, “That staying the matter until the criminal proceedings were determined conveys that Justice Beharry attaches greater importance to the outcome of the charge rather than that the charge itself confirmed the Claimant’s contention that the Defendant said he would be charged. The Claimant being charged with larceny of the missing law books established the Defendant’s defence of truth and fair comment on a matter of public interest.”
On October 16, 2020, the charges were discontinued against Nandlall by trial Magistrate Fabayo Azore at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts according to directions by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).
“During the life of the matter, there has been a great disparity in the award of costs by Justice Beharry against the Defendant as compared with awards against the Claimant, which raises the appearance of bias,” the former AG concluded.
Earlier this month, Willaims had filed a Notice of Intention to Act in Person in this matter.