|AG AGREED TO PROBE |
By Clint Chan Tack Tuesday, April 29 2014
FORMER Solicitor-General (SG) Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell is making it crystal clear that she never withdrew her call for an investigation into matters involving lawyers engaged in prison litigation.
In a statement dated April 27 issued by Keystone Law, where she is listed as one of two lawyers attached to those chambers, Donaldson-Honeywell said: “At no time did I then, or at any time since indicate that I no longer saw the need for such investigation.”
She said all she did was indicate to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar that no further investigation into this matter was required through the Office of the Prime Minister.
Donaldson-Honeywell further stated that in a meeting she had with Attorney General (AG) Anand Ramlogan on this issue, “it was agreed that there should be a general investigation into matters adversely affecting the State’s defence in prison litigation.”
Recalling the history behind this particular issue, Donaldson-Honeywell said matters to be addressed concerning prison litigation were brought to her attention by concerned persons, including the Prisons Officers Association. “For confidential reasons, I felt it necessary to bring these issues directly to the attention of the Honourable Prime Minister and did so by way of the August 30, 2013 letter which was sent under confidential cover but is now in the public domain,” she said.
Donaldson-Honeywell continued: “The main thrust of my letter was simply to get action on an investigation into matters adversely affecting the State’s defence into prison litigation.”
She said Ramlogan received her August 2013 letter from Persad-Bissessar and called her in to discuss it. Donaldson-Honeywell said during her discussions with Ramlogan, she was assured that “steps would be taken to have all concerns raised addressed.”
Reiterating her point that she never withdrew her call for an investigation, Donaldson-Honeywell said: “I was required to let the Prime Minister know that the matter I had raised with her was being investigated and her further intervention was not needed.
“I did draft a letter headed ‘confidential and without prejudice,’ ” she added.
Two letters bearing this heading, dated October 22, 2013 and October 28, 2013, and were addressed to Persad-Bissessar have been made public in the media.
Word for word, both letters are identical. However in neither letter does Donaldson-Honeywell withdraw her call for an investigation. However she advises Persad-Bissessar: “Honourable Prime Minister, your proactive attention to this matter is greatly appreciated as underscores your recognition of the interests of those engaged in civil litigation on behalf of the State and its clients in the Prison Service.” Donaldson-Honeywell added: “In light of the discussion with the Honourable AG, through your intervention, I am confident that the issues raised will be adequately addressed and would no longer seek further intervention through your office.”
The October 22 letter is unsigned while the October 28 letter has a signature which appears to be that of Donaldson-Honeywell. The October 28 letter also bears a stamp from the Ministry of the Attorney General, confirming it was received last November. Donaldson-Honeywell did not state the date of the letter she drafted to be sent to the Prime Minister, but said: “I am no longer in a position to have the records checked to determine whether it was sent,” she said.
“In any event, the Prime Minister having taken the action as she did, I felt there was no further role to play. The matter is now in the hands of the AG,” Donaldson-Honeywell stated. Noting she is no longer SG but merely an attorney in private practice, Donaldson-Honeywell concluded: “I do not propose to intervene further in this matter.”
Contacted yesterday, Donaldson-Honeywell confirmed everything in her statement, including that she maintains her call for an investigation.
Responding in a statement of his own, Ramlogan countered: “I remain ready and willing to investigate any case in which there is cause for concern but I cannot and will not allow a cloud of suspicion to be cast over the head of my attorneys without any shred of evidence.” He gave the assurance that should he find any evidence of concern, he would immediately refer the attorney “internal or external” for disciplinary action to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) and the Law Association.”
While he remains receptive to any matter of genuine concern about prison litigation, the AG said he stands firmly on the side of his ministry’s attorneys “as they have conducted themselves in a professional manner with utmost integrity.”
Regarding the letter from Donaldson-Honeywell to Persad-Bissessar, Ramlogan stated: “Only Mrs Donaldson-Honeywell can say if she sent the letter dated October 28, 2013 to the Office of the Prime Minister.” The AG added: “ It is in the public interest that she provides clarification on this because she did in fact advise me that it was sent and forwarded a signed copy to my office.”
Reiterating that he investigated concerns raised by Donaldson-Honeywell concerning prison brutality cases, Ramlogan said: “I have found no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the allegations that lawyers in the Chief State Solicitor’s (CSS) department or the SG department were in collusion with prisoners or their attorneys to procure a favourable settlement.”
Stating he requested a report from Acting SG Carol Hernandez on the specific cases raised, Ramlogan indicated the documents on file revealed that none of the cases were settled. He said in each case, there was a trial and compensation was awarded based on evidence, which normally includes independent medical evidence from the hospital or prison doctor verifying the injuries sustained.
Saying the settlement of prison cases predated his appointment as AG in 2010, Ramlogan declared: “It is mischievous for anyone to raise unspecified concerns that have no basis in fact.”
He added: “The ultimate protection and safeguard against any form of impropriety is the SG, as no case can be settled unless the SG recommends same.”
Stating the procedure for settling cases “does not leave any room for collusion” and he does not have the power as AG to settle matters on his own, Ramlogan said the lawyers in the CSS and SG departments “are not selected by the AG but by the JLSC.” He added these departments are independent, under the direct control of the CSS and SG respectively.
Ramlogan expressed surprise that an issue is now being made about prison cases, when a large majority of these cases were settled under the former People’s National Movement (PNM) government. Donaldson-Honeywell is the daughter of former PNM government minister John Donaldson who died last March. Ramlogan said this was illustrated in the judgment of Madam Justice Judith Jones in the case of Antonio Sobers vs the AG.
Commenting on this matter following an Easter tea event she hosted at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s on April 24, Persad-Bissessar said: “I received a letter. The Honourable AG is the legal adviser to the Cabinet and to the Government and has responsibility for those areas in his portfolio. It was passed to him.” She added: “I am advised that certain discussions took place and I was further advised that there was another letter which I have not had sight of, in which the SG expressed her satisfaction with what has happened. I have not seen the letter. I have read it in the newspaper.”
The Prime Minister described the issue as “a matter for serious concern” and said subsequent statements by Ramlogan were not “in relation to the concerns raised in that particular letter by the then SG.” This issue has its genesis in a Newsday story dated August 19, 2013 entitled “Charge bad turnkeys with perjury” written by investigative journalist Andre Bagoo.
In that story, Prisons Officers Association Ceron Richards stated prisons officers who lie in court should face perjury charges. At the same time, he stated while bad turnkeys should be disciplined, instances of prisons officers abusing inmates are in the minority. Richards’ statement was in response to an exclusive report detailing a 2012 report by the Inspector of Prisons Daniel Khan which highlighted instances of prisons officers brutalising inmates.
Richards also said the view of the problem is not prisons officers’ conduct but rather the lawyers representing them when the State is sued by brutalised inmates. He made reference to this article in an August 26, 2013 letter which he sent to Donaldson-Honeywell who resigned as SG on January 14.