CURIOUS CASE OF UNSIGNED LETTER
Ex-solicitor general wouldn’t confirm; AG: It’s no conflict
BY Denyse Renne and Asha Javeed
It’s the curious case of a missing signature. And it’s that of for¬mer solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Hon¬ey¬well SC, on a letter she is alleged to have written and sent to Prime Min¬is¬ter Kamla Persad-Bis¬sessar on October 22, 2013, in which she withdrew her call for an inves¬ti¬ga¬tion into attorneys in prison litigation engaged in an “unethical business venture”.
Contacted by the Sun¬day Express last Friday, Donaldson-Honeywell refused to confirm or deny whether she had penned that letter.
It bore no signature.
The October 22 letter was supposed to be a follow-up letter to an Aug¬ust 30, 2013, letter to which Donaldson-Honeywell had affixed her signature.
On August 30, Donald¬son-Honeywell bypassed her line minister, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, and wrote to Persad-Bis¬ses¬sar, asking her to initiate an investigation into circumstances “that may amount inter alia to breaches of professional ethics by the attorneys involved and may have the effect of perverting the course of justice in litigation against the State” and “whether there has been over the period from mid-2010 a conflict of interest in certain key office-holders increasingly taking action to support the said unethical business for direct and/or indirect financial gain”.
In response to that letter, Ramlogan had replied: “The SG and I had an exten¬sive discus¬sion about these allegations after which she agreed to write a letter to the Honourable Prime Min¬¬ister to express her satisfaction that the issues raised were adequate¬ly addressed and that there was no need for any further investigation from the Office of the Prime Minister. Such a letter was in fact sent.”
Ramlogan provided the Sunday Express with a copy of that unsigned letter last Saturday.
Last Thursday, Persad-Bissessar, in response to whether she was concerned about the matter, said: “I was advised certain dis¬cussions took place and I was further advised there was ano¬ther letter—which I have not had sight of, in which (Donaldson-Honey¬-well) expressed her satis-faction with what has been happening. I have not seen the letter, I read it in the newspa¬per.”
In a brief interview with the Sunday Express, Don¬ald¬son-Honeywell was asked whether she wrote the unsigned letter to Persad-Bissessar. She responded: “This matter, having left the position of Solicitor General, I am now in pri¬vate practice, which is a completely different setting. The issues of office of Soli¬citor General, I would not want to speak on those at this time.”
Questioned on whether she was contacted by the relevant judicial offices following the publication of the unsigned letter in the newspaper, she replied: “I have not been contacted by anyone and asked anything.”
Asked whether she would be willing to speak with the relevant offices, namely the Chief Justice, Judicial and Legal Services Commission or even the Prime Minister, to shed light on whether she wrote the second letter, she answered: “I have not been contacted by anyone and asked anything.”
Donaldson-Honeywell’s missing signature and her refusal to confirm or deny writing it, has raised questions about the authen¬ticity of the second letter. The letterhead is diffe¬rent from that of other letters sent by the former solicitor general in the past, which the Sunday Express obtained.
In letters to the Prime Minister (August 30) and to the Prison Officers Asso¬¬ciation (August 26), the letterhead bearing the heading “Solicitor General Chambers” is used. In the October 22 letter, the letterhead of the Ministry of the Attorney General, with a sub-head¬ing “Solicitor Gen¬eral’s Chambers”, is used. The font and signature ending of both letters are also different.
The October 22 letter to the PM stated:“Further to discussion with the Hon Attorney General it was clarified that, as noted in my letter dated August 30, 2013, such an investigation can be undertaken by the Inspector of Prisons and a request will be made to him accordingly.
“Honourable Prime Minister, your proactive attention to this matter is greatly appreciated as it underscores your recognition of the interests of those engaged in civil litigation on behalf of the State and their clients in the Prison Service. In light of the discussion with the Hon AG through your intervention I am now confident that the issues raised in my letter will be adequately addressed and accordingly would no longer seek further investigation through your office.”
Donaldson-Honeywell, who was granted silk in December 2011, resigned from the Office of the Attor¬ney General on Novem¬ber 12, 2013, and officially exited the ministry on Janu¬ary 14, 2014. Asked by the Sunday Express yesterday to pro¬vide a signed copy of the second letter, Ramlogan said: “I was advised by the SG that she had in fact sent that letter to the PM. 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.”
When the Sunday Express pointed out the discrepancies in the letterheads, he responded: “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.”
Ramlogan maintained he was advised by the former solicitor general “she had in fact sent the second letter” and could not account for the PM’s statement.
“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,” he said.
He was asked whether, in the interest of transparency and to protect the public purse, he would 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?
The AG’s response: “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 reassure the public and myself that there is no cause for concern,” he said.
—See full Q&A with the AG
Letter from the Solicitor General to the AG
22 October 2013 Confidential and without prejudice
The Honourable Prime Minister,
Mrs KamlaPersad-Bissessar SC
RE: Report proposing the need for investigation into litigation against the State arising from incidents in the Prison Service
Reference is made to the captioned report sent under confidential cover to your attention by letter dated August 30, 2013.
Earlier this month the Hon. Attorney General spoke with me on the matter as the letter had been duly forwarded to him for comment through your good offices. Having discussed the issues in the report with the Hon Attorney General I can now indicate that that a degree of consensus has been reached on appropriate steps to be taken. Specifically, there was agreement on the need to address the main concern, namely the potential national security risk posed by any imbalance in the parameters within which Attorneys for and against the Prison Service must operate in prison litigation. The Hon Attorney General has commenced action to address the concern raised as it relates to the pervading practice of advertising the results of such litigation by media releases by seeking the advice of Senior Counsel. This approach in my view will provide the required guidance on the way forward on this issue.
As it relates to the need for investigation generally into prison litigation practices two specific incidents were referred to in the August 30 report (numbered 1 and 2 on pages 2). These matters have been presented to the relevant authorities namely the Court and the Commissioner of Prisons. The references to the said issues in the letter served however, to highlight to your attention the fact that the one-sided picture of “bad turnkeys” illustrated in media reports (including the last such reports in August 2013)does not adequately reflect all circumstances that could lead to adverse results against prison officers in assault and battery cases. Accordingly, it is submitted that there is need for the type of investigation that would include not only interviews with Defence Attorneys but would also take into account the views of State Attorneys and Prison Officers.
Further to discussion with the Hon Attorney General it was clarified that, as noted in my letter dated August 30, 2013, such an investigation can be undertaken by the Inspector of Prisons and a request will be made to him accordingly.
Honourable Prime Minister your proactive attention to this matter is greatly appreciated as it underscores your recognition of the interests of those engaged in civil litigation on behalf of the State and their clients in the Prison Service. In light of the discussion with the Hon AG through your intervention I am now confident that the issues raised in my letter will be adequately addressed and accordingly would no longer seek further investigation through your office.