Thursday, February 22, 2018

Prison litigation meeting cancelled

The emergency National Security Council meeting held yesterday meant the cancellation of a meeting at the Attorney General’s Office to discuss prison litigation and the concerns of the Prison Officers Association (POA).

The meeting was supposed to be held at 1.30 p.m. yesterday.

“In light of the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal and the emergency meeting of the National Security Council called for today as a result, this meeting planned for today has been deferred.

“The Honourable Prime Minister will also use this period to give deeper consideration to the concerns expressed by the Prison Officers Association,” a statement from the Ministry of the Attorney General at 11.50 a.m. stated.

The AG’s release had described that proposed meeting as one meant “to discuss and agree on a way forward on the issue of legal matters involving lawyers engaged in prison litigation”.

The description in the AG’s release is different from the statement given by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last week when she directed Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and to meet with a team which include acting Solicitor General Carol Hernandez, Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow, Insp of Prisons Daniel Khan, Minister of Justice Emmanuel George and Chief State Solicitor Christophe Grant to probe concerns raised by the Prison Officers Association (POA) on prison litigation.

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 unfounded. 

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.