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DPP: Cops best suited
The issue of concocted, exaggerated civil assault cases filed by prisoners seeking unjust compensation from the State is now under a criminal probe. The latest development was announced by Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC, yesterday, even as the Attorney General Anand Ramlogan was ordered by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to revisit his probe into allegations of an “unethical business venture” made by former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell relating to prisoner abuse litigation.
Given the announcement of an immediate criminal probe, reliable government sources said last night that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who has been under criticism for twice referring the matter back to Ramlogan for investigation, may find the perfect excuse to scrap her decision and leave the matter in the hands of the police. There has been a chorus of objection against Ramlogan’s involvement in the probe ordered by the Prime Minister, given the role of his ministry in the settlement of cases filed by prisoners.
The Opposition had called for his removal from office pending the probe and has threatened to take to the streets in demonstrations if that was not done, while the Prison Officers Association has refused to meet with the team appointed by the PM, which comprised the acting solicitor general Carol Hernandez, chief state solicitor Christophe Grant, Minister of Justice Emmanuel George, Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow, Inspector of Prisons Daniel Khan, if the AG was involved.
A hint of the PM’s review of her decision was contained in a statement issued by the AG on Monday which announced the postponement of the meeting of stakeholders following the assassination of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal on Sunday and the summoning of an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the matter later that day. “The Honourable Prime Minister will also use this period to give deeper consideration to the concerns expressed by the Prison Officers’ Association,” the release had said.
In his press statement yesterday, Gaspard said he was of the view that a police investigation was “the most prudent course” as the Police Service was “the organisation with the resources and investigative experience for such a serious task.” On August 30 last year, Donaldson-Honeywell, who resigned in January, had complained to the PM of breaches of professional ethics by attorneys involved in prison abuse litigation which “may have the effect of perverting the course of justice.”
Persad-Bissessar had referred her complaint back to Ramlogan, who said he had investigated the matter and found no evidence to support the allegations Donaldson-Honeywell had recommended that the matter be referred to the Inspector of Prisons, Law Association and the Police Service for investigation.
In a three-page statement, Gaspard said that having perused the February 5 ruling of High Court Master Patricia Sobion-Awai in the case of Jamal Sambury vs the State, and supporting court documents, “I am of the unflinching view that there is more than sufficient material contained therein to warrant an investigation into the commission of several offences, including conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice and conspiracy to defraud the State of Trinidad and Tobago.”
He pointed out that “in terms of the acceptance of any investigative findings, both in the courts of justice as well as the court of public opinion, such a course prevents any unfair allegation of bias being made about the Office of (the) Attorney General or the incumbent (Ramlogan) and ensures that any police investigation is not in any way contaminated.”
Cut and paste info
Sobion-Awai had made findings in the case of Sambury, a prisoner who claimed to have been beaten by police officers at the holding cell of the Princes Town Magistrates Court in October 2010, including false medical claims not supported by evidence. While the State accepted liability in his case, it disputed the gravity of injuries the prisoner claimed he sustained.
Sobion-Awai also raised concerns regarding the wholesale “cut and paste” of information in Sambury’s witness statement from a separate matter involving another prisoner, Jamal Fortune, which were intended to “mislead the court.” “To my mind, it was implausible that two persons could experience separate events involving different persons in such an identical manner,” Sobion-Awai stated. The assessment of what Sambury is entitled to comes up for hearing on May 21.
Bring on probe
Both Ramlogan and attorney Gerald Ramdeen, the lead advocate in the Sambury case, last night said they welcomed the criminal investigation and hoped for a speedy resolution. Speaking by telephone, Ramlogan said: “I welcome any investigation by anyone, anywhere, anytime into this or any other case so that the public can be reassured that the legal business of the State is being conducted with the utmost independence and integrity.
“It is my hope there will be a swift investigation into this matter because it does not bode well for public confidence in the administration of justice.” Ramlogan said in the Sambury case, the lawyers from the solicitor general and chief state solicitor department would have to defend, justify and explain the position they adopted in the matter and “therefore this investigation can only lead to a vindication of my ministry.” Ramdeen, in a separate telephone interview, said he was “confident that in the end my name will be cleared.
“I welcome the intervention of the DPP in this matter to finally bring a resolution to all the questions that have been asked,” he added.