Thursday, January 18, 2018

CJ concerned over ruling which master of court sees abuse of process

Part III

(Part II appeared last Sunday)

Head of the Judiciary Chief Justice Ivor Archie has expressed concern over a ruling made by Master Patricia Sobion-Awai in the Port of Spain High Court.

In her recent 24-page ruling, Sobion-Awai called for an investigation to be launched into the circumstances surrounding how prison inmate Jamal Sambury seemed to be able to “copy” large segments of statements of successful litigants who won their matters before the High Court.

Filing the claim against the State on Sambury’s behalf was attorney Gerald Ramdeen.

Checks by the Sunday Express at the Port of Spain High Court showed several successful matters resulted in the State being ordered to pay damages to claimants ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 and in some cases more.

The cases involved inmates housed in prisons or who were in police custody. 

The claims stated the inmates were beaten by police and prison officers.

What is also of concern, legal sources say, is the number of cases which have been settled prior to going on trial.

In seeking a response from Archie, the Sunday Express posed four questions to him.

The questions centred on if he was concerned about the February 4 ruling by Sobion-Awai in which she referred to what seemed to be the copying of witness statements.

The Sunday Express also raised the February 17 Appeal Court ruling involving Sambury and asked whether the matter ought to have been referred to the Disciplinary Committee, since in the past the courts have referred matters with attorneys to such a committee.

Archie was also asked whether as head of the Judiciary, if he will be raising such concerns with the committee.

The Sunday Express understands the Disciplinary Committee comprises 15 attorneys and is headed by Senior Counsel Gilbert Peterson.

Responding to the questions posed, Archie said: “The matter is of concern to The Honourable Chief Justice and is being inquired into.”

Contacted on Friday afternoon by the Sunday Express, president of the Law Association, Seenath Jairam SC, said the association was aware of the ruling and the matter will be discussed at a meeting this week.

“The council will discuss it (this) week. We are aware of it,” Jairam said.

Asked whether it was Archie who brought it to the attention of the association, Jairam said: “No, I don’t think so. I can’t remember offhand who raised it with the council.”

Senior Counsel Reginald Armour, when contacted and asked to comment, said: “I think it is a matter of great concern for the legal profession and I would expect that the council of the Law Association will be causing a serious investigation to be made of the remarks of Master Sobion-Awai and the Court of Appeal, because it has very serious implications for the legal profession.”

Sunday Express investigations have shown that court cases involving inmates Rodney Samaroo, Jamal Fortune, Kernell Sealy and Sambury all had similarly worded statements, despite their incidents occurring years apart and involving different prison and police officers.

The statements have helped Sealy get awarded $120,000; Samaroo $90,000; and Fortune $165,142. Court records show the successful claimants were also represented by Ramdeen.

Following an incident on October 8, 2010, at the Princes Town Police Station, Sambury sued the Office of the Attorney General for damages, following injuries he sustained during the assault by the officers.

By consent (the State accepted liability), judgment on liability was entered against the office of the AG, with damages to be assessed.

The assessment matter is set to be heard on May 21 before Sobion-Awai in the Port of Spain High Court.

Throughout its investigation, the Sunday Express attempted to solicit responses from Ramdeen after posing questions to him.

The questions made reference to Samaroo, Fortune, Sealy and Sambury.

In a six-page letter dated March 21, in response to the questions posed, Ramdeen pointed out that: “At the assessment of damages the defendant, in this case the State, requested that an independent medical doctor examine the claimant. Had the claim been fabricated one would expect that such action would be avoided at all costs by the claimant.”

He added: “Any similarity in the witness statement of the claimant and the witness statement of any other person can be explained by the fact that the injuries suffered were identical and committed in similar circumstances.”

Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC and president of the Police Social and Welfare Association Insp Anand Ramesar have also called for an investigation into the matter.

Sambury case background

Signed statements were tendered by Sambury, and the State applied to the master to have the entire claim struck out as it viewed the compensation claim as an abuse of process. The State contended several discrepancies came to its attention, including what it contended was the copying of previous successful claimant’s statements.

Sobion-Awai did not strike out Sambury’s application, however, she also ruled Sambury pay the State’s costs, totalling $15,000.

The State then appealed the master’s refusal to strike out Sambury’s application while Ram­deen cross-appealed on the issue of pay­ment of costs.

On February 17, the Court of Appeal dismissed both appeals and agreed with the master’s decision on both issues. The Appeal Court panel which comprised of Justices Alan Mendonca, Gregory Smith and Maureen Rajnauth-Lee also agreed that based on what was presented to them by the State, Sambury’s statement mirrored that of a previous successful claimant.

The Appeal panel also ruled while Sambury had clearly committed an abuse of process of the court, the assessment of damages could still be carried out fairly.

Sobion-Awai’s ruling

In delivering a 24-page ruling last month, the master said: “In this case, I found the claimant (Sambury) was guilty of abuse of the process of the court, in so far as he had copied extensively from the witness statement of another litigant.”

“Apart from the sheer volume of the material that is common to both witness statements, when one analyses it quantitatively, it was clear that this was not mere coincidence. There was a quite deliberate exercise of ‘cut and paste’ undertaken to create the claimant’s witness statement from the earlier statement,” she stated.

Sobion-Awai further said: “To my mind, it was implausible that two persons could expe­rience separate events involving different persons in such an identical manner. Moreover, when one looked at the shared grammatical errors, phrasing and sequence of events, the similarities were so startling that the only reasonable conclusion was that the claimant copied and presented as his own sizable portions of the witness statement of Jamal Fortune.”

In outlining her ruling, Sobion-Awai said after considering the evidence and arguments, “I was satisfied that substantial portions of the claimant’s witness statement had been lifted from other witnesses statements, in an attempt to mislead the court as to the injuries the claimant had sustained and the actual circumstances relating to his assault at the hands of police officers. Accordingly, the conduct of the litigation by the claimant was found to be dishonest and an abuse of the process of the court.”