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Statements copied to win settlements

High Court master calls for probe into compensation claims

By BY DENYSE RENNE denyse.renne@trinidadexpress.com

A High Court master is calling for an inves­tigation to be launched into the cir­cum­stan­ces surrounding how prison inmate Jamal Sambury was able to “copy” large seg­ments of “statements of successful liti­gants” who won their matters before the High Court.

Sunday Express investigations have shown inmates Rodney Samaroo, Jamal Fortune, Ker­nell Sealy and Sambury all had similarly word­ed statements, despite their incidents occurring years apart and involving different prison and police officers.

The statements have helped Sealy get awar­­d­ed $120,000, $90,000 to Samaroo, and $165,142 to Fortune. 

According to court documents, on October 8, 2010, Sambury was at a holding cell in the Princes Town Magistrates’ Court when he was assaulted by police officers. 

Sambury subsequently sued the Office of the Attorney General for damages, following injuries he sustained during the assault by the officers.

By consent (the State accepted liability), judg­ment on liability was entered against the office of the AG, with damages to be assessed.

The matter is being heard before Master Patricia Sobion-Awai in the Port of Spain High Court.

Appearing for the State were attorneys Lee Merry, instructed by Kendra Mark and Brian Basdeo, while attorney Gerald Ramdeen, instructed by Varun Debideen, appeared for Sam­bury.

The attorneys also appeared on behalf of their respective clients at the Court of Appeal.

Ramdeen, acting on Sambury’s behalf, had sued the State. 

Signed statements were tendered by Sam­­bu­­ry, and the State applied to the master to have the entire claim struck out as it viewed the compensation claim as an abuse of process. The State contended several discrepancies came to its attention, including what it contended was the copying of previous successful claimant’s state­ments.

Sobion-Awai did not strike out Sambury’s application, however, she also ruled Sambury pay the State’s costs, totalling $15,000.

The State then appealed the master’s refusal to strike out Sambury’s application while Ram­deen cross-appealed on the issue of pay­ment of costs. 

The Court of Appeal dismissed both appeals and agreed with the master’s decision on both issues.

Sambury’s matter was called in the Appeal Court on February 17, 2014. The appeal panel comprised Justices Alan Mendonca, Gregory Smith and Maureen Rajnauth-Lee.

The Appeal panel also ruled while Sambury had clearly committed an abuse of process of the court, the assessment of damages could still be carried out fairly. 

This assessment will take place in May in the Port of Spain High Court before the master.

Sobion-Awai, in delivering a 24-page ruling last month, said: “In this case, I found the claim­ant (Sambury) was guilty of abuse of the process of the court, in so far as he had cop­ied

extensively from the witness statement of ano­ther litigant.”

“Apart from the sheer volume of the material that is common to both witness statements, when one analyses it quantitatively, it was clear that this was not mere coincidence. There was a quite deliberate exercise of ‘cut and paste’ undertaken to create the claimant’s witness statement from the earlier statement,” she stated.

Sobion-Awai further said: “To my mind, it was implausible that two persons could expe­rience separate events involving different persons in such an identical manner. Moreover, when one looked at the shared grammatical errors, phrasing and sequence of events, the similarities were so startling that the only rea­son­able conclusion was that the claimant copied and presented as his own sizable portions of the witness statement of Jamal Fortune.”

Sources say within the last ten years, over $10 million in compensation has been paid to prison inmates—both on Death Row and Remand Yard—and members of the public. The damages tallied with other costs resulted from wrongful arrests, assault and battery, unlawful detention, malicious prosecution and a series of other infractions. 

In outlining her ruling, Sobion-Awai said after considering the evidence and arguments, “I was satisfied that substantial portions of the claimant’s witness statement had been lifted from other witnesses statements, in an attempt to mislead the court as to the injuries the claimant had sustained and the actual circumstances relating to his assault at the hands of police offi­cers. Accordingly, the conduct of the litigation by the claimant was found to be dishonest and an abuse of the process of the court.”

When the Sunday Express contacted Attorney General Anand Ramlogan last Friday and asked whether he was concerned or had anything to say regarding the judgment, he said: “I have no comments to make.”

The Sunday Express pointed out money used to compensate several claimants were derived from taxpayers.

Ramlogan said: “The judiciary adjudicates, not me.”

Asked whether he will be taking the advice of Sobion-Awai and launch an investigation in the matter, the AG said: “This is a matter for the judiciary.”

Told the judiciary, through its agent, Sobion-Awai, advised that the investigation take place, Ramlogan said the matter is currently before the Court of Appeal.

“I believe this matter went to the Court of Appeal and that’s a superior court of record. I will have to examine the transcripts from the Court of Appeal to see what transpired.

The Court of Appeal is a superior court of record and if it makes a pronouncement, I will abide by such pronouncements,” he said.

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