Ex-solicitor general breaks silence on call for probe into unethical lawyers... ‘At no time did I then, or at any time since indicate that I no longer saw the need for such investigation’
Former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell said yesterday at no time did she ever indicate that she no longer saw the need for an investigation into an unethical business venture between attorneys and inmates involved in prison litigation against the State.
In a statement to the Express on Sunday night, following the release by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan of a signed letter from Donaldson-Honeywell to the Prime Minister, which was amended to a press release yesterday, the former solicitor general said:
“In my capacity as Solicitor General, matters to be addressed concerning prison litigation were brought to my attention by concerned persons, including the Prison Officers Association. For confidential reasons, I felt it necessary to bring these issues directly to the attention of the Hon Prime Minister and did so by way of the August 30, 2013 letter which was sent under confidential cover, but is now in the public domain.
“The main thrust of the letter was simply to get action on an investigation into matters adversely affecting the State’s defence in prison litigation. There was no issue raised in my letter as to wrongdoing on the part of attorneys working as employees within the offices of solicitor general and chief state solicitor. On the contrary, the issues to be investigated concerned whether external practices unfairly undermined their work in defending the State.
“The Attorney General, having received the letter, sent to him by the Prime Minister, called me to discuss it and, during discussions, I was assured that steps would be taken to have all of the concerns raised addressed. It was agreed that there should be a general investigation into prison litigation which would take into account the concerns of prison officers as well as investigate whether practices in prison litigation were undermining the fair prospects of the State in defending such matters. At no time did I then, or at any time since indicate that I no longer saw the need for such investigation.
“I was required by the Attorney General to let the Prime Minister know that the matter I had raised with her was being addressed and her further intervention was not needed. I did draft the letter headed “Confidential and Without Prejudice”, a copy of which I saw published in the Sunday Express but I am no longer in a position to have the records checked to determine whether it was sent. This second letter to the Hon Prime Minister did not withdraw the request for an investigation into any issues raised in the first letter.
“In any event, the Prime Minister having taken action as she did, I felt I had no further role to play. The office of Solicitor General, unlike that of the Director of Public Prosecutions, is not an office that is empowered by the Constitution to have exclusive authority in determining any matters, including settlement or payment of damages. Instead the Constitution provides that the Attorney General is responsible for the administration of legal affairs and Civil Law proceedings for and against the State. The matter was then in the hands of the Attorney General. As an attorney-at-law in private practice, I have demitted office as Solicitor General and propose to make no further comment on this matter.”
In an interview with the Sunday Express last week, Ramlogan was asked a series of questions and he responded that the matters raised by the former solicitor general had been addressed.
“The SG and I had an extensive discussion about these allegations, after which she agreed to write a letter to the Honourable Prime Minister to express her satisfaction that the issues raised were adequately 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”, the AG said.
In her initial six-page letter, dated August 30, 2013, to Persad-Bissessar, Donaldson-Honeywell outlined her concerns during her three-year tenure as Solicitor General.
The former solicitor general wrote to Persad-Bissessar asking that an investigation be launched by the Inspector of Prisons, the Law Association and the Police Service to determine whether attorneys involved in prison litigation are engaged in an “unethical business venture”.
Donaldson-Honeywell, in her letter, asked Persad-Bissessar 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.”
This letter carried the letterhead Solicitor General’s Chambers and was sent directly to Persad-Bissessar, bypassing her line minister Ramlogan.
Ramlogan released a second unsigned letter dated October 22 from the SG to Persad-Bissessar but this letter bore the letterhead of the Ministry of the Attorney General (Solicitor General’s Chambers) in which Donaldson-Honeywell stated: “Having discussed the issues in the report with the Hon Attorney General I can now indicate 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 letter ended by stating: “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.”
Following queries by the Express on the whereabouts of the signed letter, the AG released a signed copy dated October 28 on Sunday night.
This letter was stamped as having being received by the Ministry of the Attorney General in November 2013. The actual date was obscured.
In an interview with the Express last Friday, Donaldson-Honeywell was asked whether she had signed the letter dated October 22, 2013. This letter carried the letterhead of Ministry of the Attorney General (Solicitor General’s Department).
Speaking with reporters last week, Persad-Bissessar said she had received the former solicitor general’s initial letter and had passed it on to Ramlogan.
“I received a letter. The honourable Attorney General is the legal adviser to the Cabinet and the Government and has the responsibility for those areas in his portfolio. It was passed to him; 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,” she said.
At 11.10 a.m. yesterday, the Express e-mailed and texted Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar seven questions which centred on the conflict of the Attorney General investigating his own office and what actions she would now pursue on the matter.
In a text at 7.50 p.m., the PM responded: “Sorry did not get time to respond today as I was otherwise work involved and did not pick up questions in time but will respond in due course.”
The Express was unable to get Communications Minister Vasant Bharath, Legal Affairs Minister and leader of the Congress of the People Prakash Ramadhar, or Leader of Government Business Dr Roodal Moonilal to comment on the issue yesterday.