Mar 12, 2016 News
The Commission of Inquiry into the deaths of 17 prisoners was adjourned yesterday after President of the Guyana Bar Association, Christopher Ram, filed an application to allow its members to participate in the Inquiry.
Chairman of the Commission, Justice James Patterson, accepted the motion, which Ram presented as the Commission was preparing to continue its questioning of witnesses at the Inquiry, which is being held at the Ministry of the Presidency.
The COI will resume on Monday.
This means that the two inmates who testified Thursday at the opening session of the COI will be recalled Monday so that Attorneys from the Bar Association can question them.
In response to a query from COI Chairman James Patterson, Ram said that members of the Bar Association are being encouraged to offer pro-bono services to anyone seeking representation at the Inquiry.
Ram said that the Association was seeking, among other things, to have full participatory rights in the Inquiry, to have a presence at the Inquiry, and the right to receive full correspondence.
“The events of the night of March 2 and March 3, 2016, led to the highest number of deaths of incarcerated persons in the same event in the history of Guyana. It is irrelevant whether the persons were convicted persons or awaiting trial…it is a tragedy no one wishes to see repeated,” he said.
“The Association believes that its participation would further the conduct of the Inquiry and further believes that its participation would contribute to the openness and fairness of the Inquiry.
“Members of the Association practise daily in the Magistrate’s Courts and in the High Courts of Guyana, and are familiar with critical issues of bail, sentencing, remand and conditions in the prisons and lockups in Guyana, (which are) matters of direct interest and relevance to the Commission.
”Members of the Association have participated in various roles, in the Linden Commission of Inquiry and most recently in the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry, and bring valuable experience and expertise to the Commission.
“The Association and its members are prepared once again to play its part in ensuring not only that the terms of reference of the Commission…are achieved, but that the recommendations serve the interest of the legal profession, its clients and most importantly, the national interest,” he added.
Ram stated that the Guyana Bar Association anticipates that the Inquiry will hear from relatives of the deceased, members of the judiciary, the Guyana Police Force, and other stakeholders.
“Most of these persons may not have legal representation, and the presence of attorneys from the Association can provide some assistance to those who have a right to such representation.
“The Inquiry is designed to report to the Government and the public its findings and recommendations, and the findings and the recommendations will have an impact on the country’s legal profession, the administration of justice, human rights, the rule of law, and prison systems,” Ram said.
On Thursday, two inmates, both of whom are accused of murder, related their versions of events on the day of the tragedy.
Capital A Block inmate, Dwayne Lewis, who has been in the facility for the past eight months,
told the commissioners that he was packing his “things” to exit the division when the prison wardens locked the door from the outside. The fire later started in the centre of the division.
He could not say how the fire started but claimed that it escalated when tear gas was thrown into the room from the outside.
According to Lewis, some of the prisoners broke the wall from Division A in an attempt to go to Division B.
But he said that six cans of tear gas were thrown into the building. He said that the inmates screamed for help, but got no response from the authorities.
He managed to escape through the shattered prison wall, while others were trapped in the burning area.
Errol Kesney, another prisoner, also testified to the Commission.
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