Thursday, January 18, 2018

Ex-SG must justify letter

 I have been reading with close interest the newspaper articles surrounding a letter under the hand of then Solicitor General Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell making sweeping, unspecified and ambiguous allegations and calling for a carte blanche investigation with no specific terms of reference.

It must be first highlighted that in August 18 and 19, 2013 there was a newspaper article highlighting the losing rate of the State in certain cases which I can only surmise encouraged a letter dated August 27, 2013 from the Prison Officers Association saying that prison officers, as a result of the losses highlighted in the article, felt demotivated, felt that their reputation was diminished in the eyes of the public and felt that the losses jeopardised their safety. Four days later, on August 30,  2013, Ms Donaldson-Honeywell wrote the letter that has been the subject of debate and several news stories for some weeks now. 

She has called for an investigation into three areas concerning brutality cases brought on behalf of prisoners. 

First, she alleges there was an “unethical business venture by attorneys purportedly on behalf of prisoners alleged to have been assaulted by prison officers.” What she meant by “unethical business venture” is beyond me. Is she saying that prisoners are making up allegations and the attorneys are encouraging that with the assistance of the prison officers? Who are the parties involved in this “unethical business venture”? Ms Donaldson-Honeywell has in fact accused attorneys within her then department of unethically, dishonestly and criminally failing to properly defend these claims and that her attorneys were financially benefitting from these crimes.  

Ms Donaldson-Honeywell then alleges that there is a conflict of interest with “certain key officers holders increasingly taking action to support” these unethical practices. However she has made a wild and dangerously sweeping reference to key office holders without any specificity as to what offices she is referring to.

She does not explain the nature of the conflict of interest. There is no conflict of interest with an attorney acting on behalf of the State and acting against the State in unrelated separate briefs. I have prosecuted matters for the State and defended individuals against the State. I have challenged the State for individuals who are to be extradited and I acted for the State against individuals that the State wished to extradite. I myself have sued the State on behalf of clients for malicious prosecution and I have defended the State against individuals who sued the State for malicious prosecution. No informed legal mind could ever properly accuse me of unethical conflict of interest. So what exactly is Ms Donaldson-Honeywell referring to when she writes there is a “conflict of interest”?

Worst of all, Ms Donaldson-Honeywell calls for an investigation into these allegations which to date she has brought not a shred of evidence to substantiate. 

Ms Donaldson-Honeywell has initiated a witch-hunt and the media frenzy and the sensationalising of this letter has misled the public with talk of a grand conspiracy with no specified details involving unnamed individuals.

The former solicitor general has called for an investigation and must therefore substantiate this call. The guide to justify and manage  investigations is set out in the “Uniform Principles and Guidelines for Investigations”. It states that there must be sufficient factual information to enable the authorities to make a fair and objective determination of what, if anything, should be investigated. 

A call for an investigation must not be based upon premature beliefs or conclusions as to guilt or innocence but should be guided by the prima facie information/allegations/facts. A call for an investigation must not be based on partisan or other improper political or personal considerations and must not invidiously discriminate against, or wrongly favour, persons on the basis of race or political affiliation.

 Further, there must be consideration of whether an investigation would be in the public interest and what the potential consequences of a wrongly instituted investigation might be on the subjects and targets. There must be a recognition that the institution of an investigation is an attack on the integrity, character and reputation of the subject being investigated.

Further the guide on assessing whether an investigation should be held states that there must first be a process of collecting, preserving and securing basic evidence, and the evaluation of available information and evidence to determine whether an investigation is warranted.

A call for an investigation, especially by as high an office holder as the Solicitor General, should be made after considered deliberation and such a decision should be made in a manner that maintains objectivity, impartiality and fairness and it must be made competently and with the highest levels of integrity. The standard required to make such a call must be that there are sufficient facts to permit a reasonable inference that a violation has occurred. Ms Donaldson-Honeywell must provide reliable information to justify her letter.

Again it must be stated that the issue of the Prison Officers Association complaining about the failures of the Solicitor General’s office poorly managing and defending prison officers was, according to its president, raised as far back as 2005, then again in a letter dated May 2011, at a stakeholders meeting in August 2012 and again in a letter dated August 26, 2013 as reported in the press. 

It must again be stated that the Solicitor General’s Department’s $10 million losses were highlighted in a newspaper story dated August 19, 2013 (11 days before Ms Donaldson-Honeywell penned her letter) titled “Charge bad turnkeys with perjury” written by  Andre Bagoo. The article was nothing more than an exclusive report detailing a 2012 report by the Inspector of Prisons which highlighted cases of prisons officers who were found to have used excessive use of force against inmates. 

Therefore I call on Mrs Donaldson Honeywell to provide adequate evidence, detailed allegations and reliable information to justify her most serious call for investigation into a conspiracy.