Despite several calls for Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to step aside from any probe which involves his ministry and lawyers in prison litigation, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday instructed him to meet with various stakeholders to address concerns of an “unethical business venture”.
On August 30, 2013, then solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell bypassed line minister Ramlogan and wrote to Persad-Bissessar, suggesting 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”.
She was also concerned “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”.
Persad-Bissessar, in a statement issued yesterday, said she had forwarded that letter to Ramlogan to address the contents.
Ramlogan said he had addressed all of Donaldson-Honeywell’s concerns which were encapsulated in another letter dated October 28, which stated there was no further need for investigation by the Prime Minister.
However, this week Donaldson-Honeywell said she “was required by the Attorney General” to let the Prime Minister know the matter she raised had been addressed but never indicated she no longer saw the need for an investigation.
Last Thursday, Persad-Bissessar, in response to whether she was concerned about the matter, 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.”
The Prime Minister yesterday made reference to the letter, but did not indicate whether she had received a copy.
Last Sunday, the Prison Officers Association had called on Persad-Bissessar to investigate the matter.
Following is the full text of the Prime Minister’s statement:
Subsequent to the submission of a letter from the Solicitor General advising that an investigation be conducted into matters involving lawyers engaged in prison litigation, I immediately addressed the matter with the Honourable Attorney General. My efforts in this regard met with the satisfaction of the then Solicitor General through a subsequent letter in which she states:
“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 discussions with the Hon Attorney General, 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.”
As for the objections carried in the media about my own handling of the particular report, given that the former Solicitor General is of the view that the matter had been appropriately handled by me, who else could or should question her professional assessment? In my respectful view, the issue was treated with the urgency and seriousness required and the former Solicitor General’s expressed opinion validates my actions in this regard.
Notwithstanding the above, I have noted the current concerns raised by the former Solicitor General in a media release issued earlier this week. I have further noted the recent calls by the Prison Officers Association for the matter to be probed further.
In this context, I have advised the Honourable Attorney General to meet with the Acting Solicitor General, the Commissioner of Prisons, the Inspector of Prisons, the Minister of Justice and the Chief State Solicitor to address the said concerns raised and to determine the best way forward in ensuring all concerns are addressed.
Rowley stands his ground
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley said last night he stood by his position that the Prime Minister must institute a proper probe and the Attorney General must not be part of that probe.
“He is a witness in this matter, he has questions to answer and he must be made to answer officially,” Rowley said.
He said the Prime Minister had an opportunity to do what she didn’t do at the beginning (when she received the first letter from former Solicitor General Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell) and she has repeated her unacceptable conduct.
“The Prime Minister has sent the matter back to the Attorney General for investigation. Either she is not accepting that the Attorney General or his department has any questions to answer in this matter, or (she believes) that it is okay for him to be the investigator of himself and his department.
“Either position is unacceptable to us and we would now have to demand that the Prime Minister does her job... and that that investigation be done by an independent, competent body or person,” Rowley said.
Rowley said if the Prime Minister persists in wanting “to bury, cover up and brakes for the Attorney General, then right-thinking persons must hold the Prime Minister personally responsible for this situation”.