Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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Prisons body refuses to meet with AG
Even before it begins, the second probe into allegations of collusion relating to prison abuse litigation has suffered a setback. One of the key agitators in the issue, the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) yesterday said it would not meet with Attorney general Anand Ramlogan to discuss the issue, insisting he cannot be part of any probe.
In the face of mounting public pressure, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on Tuesday ordered Ramlogan to revisit allegations of collusion involving lawyers engaged in prison litigation made by former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell in a letter to the PM last August.
Persad-Bissessar told Ramlogan to meet with the key stakeholders in the field, including acting Solicitor General Carol Hernandez, Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow, Inspector of Prisons Daniel Khan, Minister of Justice Emmanuel George, Chief State Solicitor Christophe Grant and the POA, and chart the best way forward. But yesterday, POA president Ceron Richards said the association with the PM’s decision to involve the AG in the process.
Referring to a specific case in which the issue of collusion in prison litigation matters was highlighted, Richard said, “The Prison Officers Association wishes to express its deepest 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 Prime Minister has not acceded to our public request for an urgent investigation into these matters but rather has chosen to refer the investigation to the Office of the Attorney General.”
Donaldson-Honeywell, who resigned from the Office of the Attorney General on November 12, 2013, and officially exited the ministry on January 14, wrote to Persad-Bissessar on August 30, 2013, asking her to investigate 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.” She referred to the retaining of external lawyers by the Office of the Attorney General who defended the State in civil law.
Donaldson-Honeywell claimed there were concerns about a breach of professional ethics for indirect or direct financial gain, adding she was concerned the attorneys were engaged in an unethical business venture. After the AG produced a second letter to the media, which seemed to suggest Donaldson-Honeywell had withdrawn her request after being satisfied he had dealt with matter in a probe, Donaldson-Honeywell countered that she never did and expected the probe to continue.
This was when Persad-Bissessar ordered Ramlogan to start a second probe.
Richards said he firmly believed that the decision by Persad-Bissessar would not result in any objective outcome, since Ramlogan had reported that a previous investigation done by his office revealed nothing to substantiate the claims made by Donaldson-Honeywell. “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,” Richards said.
“That said, 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. As such, the Prison Officers’ Association has refused an invitation from the office of the Attorney General to meet and participate in discussions surrounding this investigation.” He said was convinced that only an independent investigation would adequately serve to determine the legitimacy of the claims being made.
Describing the issue as very important, Richards said the handling of these matters and its implications for prisons officers were raised with the solicitor general’s office and highlighted a severly damaging situation to the moral of officers and reflected a poor image of the service, both locally and internationally.
“The issue of the safety and security of officers as it relates to this matter were also raised, as it became evident that criminals were using these cases and adverse media coverage as a justification to attack and murder prisons officers, who are forced to work under conditions and perform their duties based on the systems and resources supplied by the State,” Richards said. He also criticised recent statements made by Ramlogan which he said painted a negative picture about prisons officers in the conduct of their duties.
“This is worrying and has deepened our concern about the attorney general’s involvement in this investigation,” Richards added.
Police probe needed too
Apart from the conflict of interest, a most critical and serious matter has also existed as it related to the perversion of the course of justice, People’s National Movement (PNM) Senator Faris Al-Rawi said yesterday. He said this was initially raised by the Law Association in a press release issued on Wednesday. “This potentially constitutes criminal conduct requiring an investigation by the Police Service, as the only lawful entity charged with the responsibility of investigating potential crimes.
“The Attorney General has strenuously advocated that the police investigate the supposed Police Complaints Authority leak and therefore he ought to know that apart from the conflict of interest, by his own yardstick, the Police Service should be investigating this matter,” Al-Rawi said.
Jamal Sambury’s assault case against the State was raised by the registrar of the Supreme Court Marissa Robertson, who has referred the matter to the Law Association after concerns were raised by Master Patricia Sobion-Awai in her February 5 judgement.
Sobion-Awai, in her ruling, found that Sambury sought to mislead the court regarding head injuries he sustained and the actual circumstances of his assault and battery, by lifting significant portions of court filings from previous cases by prisoners who had made similar claims against the State. She also found the conduct of litigation by Sambury to be dishonest and an abuse of the court.