Sunday, February 25, 2018

No meetings on prison litigation

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan says now that Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard has directed that a criminal probe begin into prison litigation matters, there is no need for him to have a stakeholder meeting on the issue.

That meeting was also supposed to address the concerns of the Prison Officers Association (POA).

Despite calls for him to step aside, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had directed  Ramlogan to meet with a team which included acting Solicitor General Carol Hernandez, Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow, Inspector of Prisons Daniel Khan, Minister of Justice Emmanuel George and Chief State Solicitor Christophe Grant to probe concerns raised by the POA on  prison litigation.

However, on the day the meeting was supposed to be held on May 5, an emergency National Security Council meeting was called following the murder of former independent senator and senior counsel, Dana Seetahal, the day before.

 The AG’s office had issued a release which stated:  “The Honourable Prime Minister will also use this period to give deeper consideration to the concerns expressed by the Prison Officers Association.”  

The concerns and the need for an investigation were first raised by former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, SC in a letter to Persad-Bissessar on August 30, 2013.  

Donaldson-Honeywell bypassed line minister AG Ramlogan and wrote to Persad-Bissessar suggesting that a three-pronged investigation by the Inspector of Prisons, the Law Association and the Police Service be undertaken to determine whether attorneys involved in prison litigation are engaged in an “unethical business venture” which “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”.

Following the publication of the letter in a Sunday Express exclusive, the POA called for Persad-Bissessar to investigate the matter as it was not swayed by the AG’s claims that Donaldson-Honeywell had exited his ministry last November satisfied that her concerns were addressed. 

When the PM issued a statement on April 30, which appointed Ramlogan as a member of the team to address the concerns, the POA refused to meet with him.

The POA has maintained that an independent investigation must take place.

In response, AG Ramlogan said the POA was never part of the investigating committee. Furthermore, Ramlogan noted that the judgment of Master Patricia Sobion-Awai, which raised concerns about copy-and-paste claims by prison inmates, was now before the disciplinary committee of the Law Association, which constituted an independent enquiry.

On May 7, the DPP issued a statement advising that he had directed Acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams to “commence forthwith” a criminal investigation into “prison litigation matters” and “the prospect of criminal wrongdoing”.

Gaspard based his decision on correspondence he had received from the Registrar of the Supreme Court on the decision of Master Patricia Sobion-Awai in the matter of Jamal Sambury vs the Attorney General and the transcript of the hearing of the Procedural Appeal. He said there was enough material to support an investigation.