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New policy to ‘gag’ lawyers at AG’s office
Former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell has left behind a policy that, if implemented, could effectively ban all legal officers working in that office from giving evidence in court on cases involving the State. The policy document, Legal Profession Privilege Policy, is open to public comment on the Attorney General’s Web site www.ag.gov.tt but has been described as “suspicious and illegal” by former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj.
The six-item policy paper seeks to “prohibit” any disclosure “whether on a voluntary basis or under compulsion in all circumstances including pre-trial, at court, for investigative purposes or disciplinary purposes.” The policy also covers all clients of the AG’s office including “all government ministries and employees thereof including but not limited to officers of the civil, police, prison, fire and health services.”
The document also states that “disclosure of privileged communications other than in keeping with this policy may constitute misconduct and/or a breach of the law officer’s employment contract.” This puts an effective gag on all legal officers attached to the AG’s office, even if called upon to give evidence in matters against the State in court.
The Sunday Guardian understands that the details of the policy are in contravention of the basic tenets of Commonwealth law which subscribes to a “special” relationship between the AG’s office and the courts and which expects candour and frank disclosure from the Attorney General’s office and its legal officers. Maharaj, in a telephone interview with the Sunday Guardian, said the pending policy was also “contrary to law.”
“It is unheard of as it instructs legal officers to compromise the law. No legal officer should accede to this policy,” he said. Maharaj said both the AG and legal officers of that office were “duty bound” to act in the public interest and disclose all material matters to assist the courts in getting to the truth.
“In that context, the courts have a long-held partnership with the AG and expect full and frank disclosure. If this policy is implemented, legal officers can be held in contempt of court. Legal officers have a duty to disclose evidence to court or the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions). This policy can now cause three things—legal officers who acceded to it will be acting contrary to the principles of the legal profession, failing in their duty to the court and they can incriminate themselves,” he said.
“This policy is not only illegal but it seems to be an attempt to cover up wrongdoing,” Maharaj said.
Ramlogan: It’s not on my agenda
But Ramlogan, in a telephone interview with the Sunday Guardian on Friday, dismissed such allegations. Ramlogan said the policy was not his idea and was not on his list of priorities. “This has not been on my agenda but now that it has been brought to the fore, I would review the policy to ensure that attorneys in the ministry are not in any way restricted from making full and frank disclosure to any investigative body or the courts,” he said.
Ramlogan confirmed that while the wording was “questionable,” he did not think that the objective of the policy was to gag attorneys. “I do not believe that was the intent. If the drafting suggests otherwise, it may have been inadvertent, an error or else an oversight on the part of the former solicitor general,” he said.