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Ramlogan: Large payouts to prisoners under PNM

 Attorney General Anand Ramlogan was yesterday  asked questions based on the August 30 letter. The following are his responses: 

 

Sunday Express: Were you concerned about the contents of the letter?

AG: Yes.

 

Are you similarly concerned about State attorneys representing prisoners in what she described as an “unethical business practice?”

Yes, as this is an issue, which predated my appointment as Attorney General (AG). Attorneys retained by the State represent clients against the State. It is the same for the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) department as well as external lawyers hired to prosecute also defend clients against the DPP. This has always been so. I have never retained any of the lawyers involved in prison brutality cases to represent the State in such matters.

The State has, in the last decade been forced to pay out millions of dollars in compensation to prisoners whose rights were violated. The large majority of these payouts occurred under the PNM administration.

The gist of the allegation is that attorneys from the Solicitor General’s Department under the supervision of the Solicitor General (SG) were guilty of facilitating ‘unethical business practices” by settling matters where the evidence was fabricated (or ‘cut and paste’). For this to be true, there would have to be a conspiracy between the external lawyers representing the prisoners, the lawyers from the Chief State Solicitor (CSS) and SG’s department, the SG and the AG (past and present) and judges or masters from the Supreme Court that decides the compensation payable.

This is so because the mandatory procedure to be followed is:

a) Attorneys from the office of the CSS will meet with the prison officers and authorities to get their detailed response or instructions to the allegations made. Witness statements will be taken. Different attorneys are assigned to different matters and this minimises the possibility of collusion.

b) This file is then forwarded to advocate attorney in the SG’s department for review. Further interviews are held with the prison officers if there are any queries. The team leader or senior legal officer in the SG’s department is then consulted. If, in their professional opinion there is no viable defence to the claim, a legal opinion is done recommending settlement. The file is then submitted to the SG for her to independently consider the matter.

c) The SG reviews the file and may or may not endorse the recommendation for settlement. If she is of the view that the settlement is justified she will so recommend to the AG who may or may not approve same.

d) In many cases whilst liability is settled, the compensation is referred to a trial before a master or a judge so that the actual amount can be decided by the court.

 

Attorneys had threatened legal action against the SG for proposing to take action against them. What action did you take to ensure that the SG’s office was protected?

 The insinuation of corruption was baseless and ridiculous. I indicated that I was poised, ready and willing to defend the ministry’s attorneys in the CSS and SG’s departments as well as previous AG’s and myself. I suggested that we retain Mr Russell Martineau SC in the event that any claim was filed; however, no claim was filed.

 

Are you concerned by the SG’s statement about “key office holders” benefitting from indirect financial gain?

Having regard to the fact that the large majority of payouts in the prisoners’ cases predated both the SG and my own assumption of office, we were both extremely concerned about this statement. The procedure outlined above is one that involves a number of public officers including judicial officers. I am extremely careful about agreeing to pay out any compensation.

Having regard to the recent series in your newspaper, I did in fact request a specific report into the cases mentioned and was happy to note that the proper procedure was followed in each case. In no case did the ministry agree to compensation for the prisoner. The facts are as follows:

a) Jamal Sambury vs The AG ­— No settlement. The State consented to judgment on liability before Justice Mira Dean-Armorer in this matter because the SG’s department advised that there was no viable defence. There will be a trial in court to determine the amount of compensation in due course. Matter sub judicie.

b) Kernell Sealy v The AG — No settlement.This case was tried by Justice Judith Jones who awarded substantial compensation based on the medical and other evidence.

c) Rodney Samaroo v The AG – No settlement. Justice David Harris tried this case, ruled in favour of the prisoner and awarded substantial compensation.

d) Jamal Fortune vs The AG —No settlement. Liability was agreed and there was a trial. Substantial compensation was awarded by Master Martha Alexander.

 

The Sunday Express learnt that the letter was handed over to you for your perusal. Can you say what action you took when it was brought to your attention to protect the State, and by extension taxpayers, from having to pay out extensive sums for prison brutality?

AG: The SG and I had an extensive discussion about these allegations after which she agreed to write a letter to the Honorable 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.

We agreed that a great disservice was being done to attorneys in the ministry because the many cases which the State won against prisoners were not highlighted in the media to ensure there is balance. This fact could contribute to the perception that too many matters involving prisoners were either lost or settled.

Such one-sided reports portrayed the ministry’s lawyers in a negative light without regard to the variety of circumstances that could lead to settlement or a “loss” in court. Oftentimes, the State had to concede the case because the allegations made by the prisoner were true. There is nothing we can do in such circumstances. We agreed that the views of the ministry’s lawyers must also be made known to ensure there is balance and fairness.

I was concerned about the number of prisoners who had access to cell phones as a judge had only recently brought a matter to my attention where a prisoner was communicating with his attorney via BBM and was able to send pictures of his injuries. I was of the view that the prevalent use of cell phones by prisoners was a national security concern and must be investigated. We agreed that the Inspector of Prisons could also be used to assist in any specific areas of concern.

Please note that I have in fact answered questions posed by the Opposition in the Parliament regarding all legal claims settled by the State and that no issues have been raised regarding same. I will be happy to answer any further questions.

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