Friday, February 23, 2018

Probe Prison Ploy

Former solicitor general writes PM, citing ‘unethical business venture’ by attorneys:


Concerned: Former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, SC

Mark Fraser

A three-pronged investigation by the Inspector of Prisons, the Law Association and the Police Service should be undertaken to determine whether attorneys involved in prison litigation are engaged in an “unethical business venture”.

That was the proposal by former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, SC in a letter dated August 30, 2013 to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

The State, through the office of the Attorney General, has been forking out millions to certain attorneys to settle matters.

From her vantage point, Donaldson-Honeywell was alarmed by what she termed an “unethical business venture”.

To this end, she wrote to Persad-Bissessar 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”.

Donaldson-Honeywell, who was granted silk in December 2011, resigned from the Office of the Attorney General on November 12, 2013 and officially exited the ministry on January 14, 2014.

At the time, she cited “personal reasons” for her resignation.

In the six-page letter obtained by the Sunday Express, the former SG noted her concerns during her three-year stewardship. 

A matter which she said needed to be investigated was “whether there has been in existence for some time an unethical business venture engaged in by attorneys at law, purportedly on behalf of prisoners alleged to have been assaulted by prison officers 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 matter has severe implications for national security and for the integrity of the civil law function of defending the State and by extension its citizens and taxpayers in litigation brought against entities such as the Prison Service.  These implications are manifest in the demotivating effect of the situation on State attorneys and prison officers, the diminishing of the reputation of State attorneys and prison officers in the eyes of the public, increased lack of confidence and/or animosity in relation to prison officers thereby making their jobs more difficult and jeopardising the safety of all concerned,” she said.

To illustrate her point, Donaldson-Honeywell focused on three major points:

1. Lawyers acting for the State also representing prisoners

She noted that the Office of the Attorney General had retained lawyers previously engaged on a large-scale basis in prison litigation against the State. She observed that these lawyers defend the State in certain civil law claims while they continue to act against the state in prison matters. With regard to a lawyer engaged by the state in civil matters, Donaldson-Honeywell said it was brought to her attention that there had been evidence of “cut and paste” in using the same set of alleged injuries for different alleged victims of prison beatings.  

“When the State attorney brought this to the attention of the court with a view to striking out the claim, the attorney (who represents the AG’s office in several civil matters) wrote a letter to the Honorable Attorney General threatening to report him to the Law Association. The said letter was forwarded to my attention,” she said.

In a Sunday Express exclusive by journalist Denyse Renne on March 30, it was reported that Master Patricia Sobion-Awai, in a recent 24-page ruling, called for an investigation to be launched into the circumstances surrounding how prison inmate Jamal Sambury, who is represented by Gerald Ramdeen, seemed to be able to have “copied” large segments of statements of successful litigants who won their matters before the High Court. 


2. Conflict of Interest

Donaldson-Honeywell explained that AG Anand Ramlogan had recommended the name of a legal officer in the Prison Service, who was responsible for collating instructions for the State’s defence in Prison matters, to undertake in-service training at the Ministry of the Attorney General. However, that officer took up an internship with the same attorney, who represents the State in certain civil matters and is actively involved in litigation against the State, the Prison Service and its prison officers.

“As soon as the latter was brought to my attention a letter was dispatched to the Commissioner of Prisons and copied to the attorney at law. Thereafter only the attorney responded, threatening to report me to the Law Association as he took offence to what he saw to be aspersions on his ethics as an attorney.”

3. Favourable Newspaper Articles

Donaldson-Honeywell observed that two articles were published in a daily newspaper on August 18 and 19 which characterised prison officers as guilty of lying to the Court and being brutal to prisoners.

“The articles in my view though cloaked in the guise of a “special investigative report” were actually blatant advertisements on behalf of the attorneys involved in the prison litigation business intended to further prop-up the business in the face of recent losses sustained.

“The clear intention of the articles was to publicise that there are still opportunities for money making for prisoners involved in altercations with prison officers in the prisons. The articles were also intended to undermine confidence in the ability of the State to defend against such actions and to give the impression that the State and prison officers are easy targets for such litigation.  The inevitable result of this lop-sided PR (public relations) would be deliberate increases in violent prison incidents with the hope that prison officers can be blamed and that large sums in damages will be awarded due to lack of defence by the State. This whole scenario makes the prisons more difficult to manage, endangers the lives of prison officers and inmates and the potentially vast flow of damages to be paid by the State is borne by taxpayers,” she said.

Donaldson-Honeywell said her attempt to have the record corrected with a release was “met without