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Probe into unethical lawyers: prison officers refuse to meet with Anand

By Asha Javeed asha.javeed@trinidadexpress.com

The Prison Officers Association (POA) has refused to meet with Attorney General Anand Ramlogan to discuss concerns about attorneys and prison inmates involved in prison litigation against the State.

Their refusal comes two days after Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar ignored calls for Ramlogan to step aside from any probe involving his ministry and lawyers in prison litigation and instructed him to meet with various stakeholders to address the POA complaints.

In refusing Ramlogan’s invitation to meet at his ministry on Monday, the POA maintains that only an independent investigation done on the matter would be adequate to determine why certain cases were settled and judgments filed in default for others. 

Those issues, said president of the POA Ceron Richards, were important as money paid to prisoners could be ploughed into improving the prisons.

Richards told the Express that he was not being “disrespectful” but “the AG’s office is central to this matter and we reject any call for such a meeting”. 

“Our consistent and clear call is for an independent investigation,” he said.

In a  statement issued yesterday, the POA said it was disappointed by Persad-Bissessar’s decision to appoint Ramlogan to a team to address their concerns.

“It is our firm view that this decision will not result in any objective outcome since the Attorney General has reported that a previous investigation done by his office revealed nothing to substantiate the claims made by the former solicitor general.  

“Additionally, it does not seem logical to us that it is prudent as it relates to transparency for the parties named by the Prime Minister to undertake such an investigation since to do so will appear that ‘himself is investigating himself’.  That is, each office named by the Prime Minister has a critical role in the process of handling these matters and is being asked to review themselves,” the POA said.

On Wednesday, Persad-Bissessar said she had noted the concerns of former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, SC and that of the POA to have the matter probed further and had set up a seven member team which includes Ramlogan, 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 address concerns.

Furthermore, the POA said it was concerned about statements made by Ramlogan “on a television station which appeared to convey very negative connotations about Prison Officers in the conduct of their duties as keepers of the states prisoners and those responsible for public safety.”

“This is worrying and has deepened our concern about the Attorney General’s involvement in this investigation,” it said.

The probe centres on the complaints made by former solicitor general Solicitor General Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, SC. 

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.

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 said she had forwarded that letter to Ramlogan to address the concerns. Ramlogan said he had addressed all of Donaldson-Honeywell’s concerns, which was encapsulated in another letter dated October 28, which said there was no further need for investigation by the Prime Minister.

The POA said: “The Prison Officers Association wishes to express its deep disappointment and finds it unfortunate that in light of what appears to be clear evidence of an unethical practice in the Jamal Sambury case, that the Honourable Prime Minister has not acceded to our public request for an urgent independent investigation into these matters but rather has chosen to refer the investigation to the Office of the Attorney General.”

On February 5, Master Patricia Sobion-Awai, in a 24-page ruling, called for an investigation to be launched into the circumstances surrounding how a prison inmate Jamal Sambury, represented by attorney Gerald Ramdeen, seemed to be able to have “copied” large segments of statements of successful litigants who won their matters before the High Court.  

The matter was referred to the Law Association by Registrar of the Supreme Court Marissa Robertson and is now before its disciplinary committee.

The POA said yesterday it refused an invitation to meet and participate in discussions surrounding this investigation “since we remain convinced that only an independent investigation  will adequately serve to determine the legitimacy or otherwise of the claims being made.  Therefore, the POA will not support any other type of investigation into this matter.”

The POA described the matter as “extremely serious” since the handling of these matters and its implications for prison officers were raised with the Solicitor General’s Office since May 2011.

It said the situation was severely damaging the morale of prisons officers and reflected a poor image locally, regionally and internationally.  

“The issue of officers’ safety and security as it relates to this matter was also raised as it became evident that the criminals were using these cases and adverse media coverage as a justification to attack and murder prison officers who are forced to work under conditions and perform their duties based on the systems and resources supplied by the State,” it said.

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