Q: AG Ramlogan, are you able to provide a signed copy of the second letter sent by former solicitor general, Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell?
A: I was advised by the Solicitor General that she had in fact sent that letter to the Prime Minister. I do not know if I have a signed copy. You have contacted me on a weekend and staff would not be able to check my files.
There are conflicting letterheads on which the letters were written.
In the first letter and in correspondence to the Prison Association, the letterhead is from the Solicitor General’s chambers. The second, unsigned letter has the letterhead of the Ministry of the Attorney General.
There is no conflict here. The Solicitor General is a department that is part of the Ministry of the Attorney General and both letterheads can and are in fact used by the Solicitor General.
On Thursday Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said: “I was advised certain discussions took place and I was further advised there was another letter—which I have not had sight of in which (Donaldson-Honeywell) expressed her satisfaction with what has been happening. I have not seen the letter; I read it in the newspaper.” Can you comment on this?
I was advised by the Solicitor General that she had in fact sent the second letter. Obviously, the Office of the Prime Minister receives hundreds of correspondence every day and I don’t expect the PM to recall seeing a letter sent so long ago.
The Sunday Express obtained documents to show that 15 cases were settled in favour of prisoners by the Ministry of the Attorney General. The settlements range from $50,000 to $250,000 in 2010 and 2011. This is contrary to your statement that most cases went before the court. How do you respond?
This is not contrary to my statement. I listed and dealt with each case raised by your newspaper. None of the matters in which it was being alleged there was a settlement in terms of a payout were in fact settled. The compensation was determined by a judge or master of the High Court and not in fact settled so the allegation was, quite simply, false. There are numerous cases involving the Prison Service.
There are hundreds of files in the Solicitor General’s department and I would be happy to look into any other case to get the facts if you provide the names. Many matters have, for example, been settled because the sentence computation was wrong as a matter of pure law and prisoners were unlawfully detained beyond the legal period.
As I indicated before, the procedure for settling a case is such that any allegation of wrongdoing would necessarily involve a conspiracy between the lawyers in the Chief State Solicitior General’s department, the Solicitor General’s department and the Solicitor General. A settlement has to be recommended by at least three different attorneys before it comes to me for consideration and approval.
Attorneys in these departments are independently appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission. They are professionals and have the utmost integrity. I therefore reject any allegation of collusion or wrongdoing. The procedure for settlement is such that it has inherent safeguards and checks and balances. Different attorneys are randomly assigned files and senior lawyers have to review and endorse any advice recommending settlement before it comes to the AG.
A settlement would only be recommended by my attorneys if there is no viable defence. This usually means that there is in fact evidence to support the allegations made by the prisoner. These allegations include:
1. physical assault and beating by prison officers
2. rape and sexual assault by prison officers
3. victimisation by prison officers linked to the illegal but widespread trafficking of items such as cell phones, sim cards, cigarettes and home-made weapons
4. inciting prisoners to bully, intimidate, harass and even beat prisoners for a variety of reasons
Matters are sometimes settled because the prison officers refuse to co-operate and provide any instructions to enable the State to file a defence. This sometimes happens because they wish to avoid disciplinary action or criminal charges. The courts frown upon the State lawyers for not settling certain cases where the medical evidence is compelling. Furthermore, the prison officers are severely criticised by the courts when we proceed. In the recent case of Sean Wallace vs The AG, Justice des Vignes said:
“Notwithstanding these strongly-worded condemnations and the award of exemplary damages, it appears to this Court that the message is not getting through to the rank and file of officers who are entrusted with the responsibilities of police officers or prison officers. The uncontroverted evidence of the claimant in this matter paints a disgusting picture of depraved and inhuman treatment of the claimant. No explanation has been given to this Court for the conduct of these officers and although the State had ample opportunity to put in a defence, they failed to do so. In fact, when I enquired of counsel for the AG whether or not he had yet received instructions on this incident from the prison authority, he advised me that as at 24th June 2009, an investigation had not yet been conducted. This suggests to me that this incident is either considered unimportant or at least very low on the priority list of the Commissioner of Prisons. In the light of the critical remarks made herein concerning the reprehensible conduct of the officers towards the claimant and the apparent failure of the relevant authorities to properly investigate and take action against the offenders, I have decided to direct the Registrar of the Supreme Court to send a copy of this judgment to the Commissioner of Prisons and to the Director of Public Prosecutions for such investigation and further action as they see fit.”
The Prison Officers Association has expressed concern about the conflict of interest which exists with Daniel Khan being the Inspector of Prisons and representing inmates against the State. Will this appointment be reviewed?
A. An attorney has always held this position and Mr Khan has been doing an excellent job as evidenced by the 500-page report he prepared. No previous Inspector has ever prepared such a report to highlight the inequities in the prisons and seek the welfare of prisoners. He has never sued the state for compensation on behalf of any prisoner so I see no conflict.
In the interest of transparency and to protect the public purse, will you support or initiate a probe into the allegations of an “unethical business practice” between attorneys and inmates against the State? If so, when? If not, why not?
I have in fact investigated all of the matters raised and found that the allegations were false. I would likewise be happy to investigate any other case (provided the matter is not still before the courts) so that I can re-assure the public and myself that there is no cause for concern.