|PM TAKES ACTION |
By JADA LOUTOO Thursday, May 1 2014
PRIME MINISTER Kamla Persad-Bissessar has instructed her Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan to investigate concerns raised by former Solicitor General Eleanor Donaldson- Honeywell as it relates to matters involving lawyers engaged in prison litigation.
In a statement yesterday, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar said she noted the concerns raised by Donaldson-Honeywell, SC, in her statement to the media on Monday, as well as calls by the Prison Officers Association for the matter to be probed further.
“In this context, I have advised the Honourable Attorney General to meet with the Acting Solicitor General, the Commissioner of Prisons, the Inspector of Prisons, the Minister of Justice and the Chief State Solicitor to address the said concerns raised and to determine the best way forward in ensuring all concerns are addressed,” the Prime Minister said.
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 lawyers by the Office of the Attorney General who defended the State in civil law claims while going against the State in prison litigation.
In her letter to the Prime Minister (PM), the former Solicitor General (SG) also referred to the concerns raised by High Court Master Patricia Sobion-Awai who found that by lifting significant portions of court filings from previous litigation by prisoners making claims against the State, prison inmate Jamal Sambury sought to mislead the court as to his injuries and the actual circumstances of his assault and battery.
Following her initial letter to the PM, Donaldson-Honeywell again wrote to Persad-Bissessar indicating that there was no need for the prime minister to investigate as a probe was being conducted.
In her statement to the media on Monday, Donaldson-Honeywell said she held a meeting with 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.”
Donaldson-Honeywell said matters to be addressed concerning prison litigation were brought to her attention by concerned persons, including the Prison Officers Association.
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.”
Persad-Bissessar in her statement yesterday, following the former SG’s first letter advising that an investigation be conducted into matters involving lawyers engaged in prison litigation, she immediately addressed the matter with the AG.
“My efforts in this regard met with the satisfaction of the then Solicitor General through a subsequent letter in which she states: ‘Honourable Prime Minister, your proactive attention to this matter is greatly appreciated as it underscores your recognition of the interests of those engaged in civil litigation on behalf of the State and their clients in the Prison Service. In light of the discussions with the Hon Attorney General, through your intervention, I am now confident that the issues raised in my letter will be adequately addressed and accordingly would no longer seek further investigation through your office’.”
The Prime Minister’s statement yesterday also noted: “As for the objections carried in the media about my own handling of the particular report, given that the former Solicitor General is of the view that the matter had been appropriately handled by me, who else could or should question her professional assessment? In my respectful view, the issue was treated with the urgency and seriousness required and the former Solicitor General’s expressed opinion validates my actions in this regard.”
The Prison Officers Association also called for a similar probe into the concerns raised by the former SG. The association said it had suspicions about an alleged “business venture” aspect involving attorneys and saw it as a means of enriching people through the vulnerabilities of the prison service. The then SG was asked to intervene.
In an immediate statement on the PM’s decision for the concerns raised to be probed, AG Ramlogan said he remained committed to investigating any matter in which there were concerns.
“I am happy to meet with the Prison Officers Association to continue the dialogue in an attempt to address their concerns so that they can be assured that the Chief State Solicitor and Solicitor General’s department provide effective representation that meets with their satisfaction,” he said.
Ramlogan expects to meet with Acting Solicitor General Carol Hernandez; Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow; Inspector of Prisons Daniel Khan; Minister of Justice Emmanuel George and Chief State Solicitor Christophe Grant as soon as reasonably practical. Efforts to reach the parties were unsuccessful while calls to former Donaldson-Honeywell’s mobile went unanswered.
See Page 5A