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By SEAN DOUGLAS Saturday, May 3 2014
THE Prison Officers Association (POA) wants an independent probe into prisoner litigation and is refusing to meet Attorney General Anand Ramlogan whom they do not consider impartial enough to probe allegations of corruption and collusion by private lawyers hired by the Office of the Attorney General.
Last February High Court master, Patricia Sobion-Awai, said inmate Jamal Sambury’s lawsuit against the State for alleged assault contained plagiarised statements from another plaintiff’s lawsuit, leading then Solicitor General Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell to ask the Prime Minister to probe whether this case included breaches of professional ethics and the perversion of the course of justice.
Since Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar last Wednesday night named Ramlogan to head a new probe into the matter, POA president Ceron Richards yesterday told Newsday that the POA is rejecting a fresh invitation to meet next Monday issued by Ramlogan last Thursday night by a telephone call. The POA, like the Law Association and the Opposition, is calling for an independent investigation into the affair.
In a statement, the POA expressed its “deep disappointment” that Ramlogan had been named by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to probe the matter including the Jamal Sambury case, saying Ramlogan has already pre-judged the matter in his previous remarks and that his appointment now amounts to “himself investigating himself”.
The POA explained its rejection of the Attorney General’s invitation to meet.
“The Prison Officers Association wishes to express its deep 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 Honourable Prime Minister has not acceded to our public request for an urgent independent investigation into these matters, but rather has chosen to refer the investigation to the Office of the Attorney General,” said the POA statement.
“It is our firm view that this decision (to name Ramlogan to probe) will not result in any objective outcome since the Attorney General has reported that a previous investigation done by his office revealed nothing to substantiate the claims made by the former Solicitor General (Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell).”
Further the POA alleged that their members are in danger because adverse media coverage of such prisoner lawsuits is being used as “justification” to attack and murder prisons officers. “The POA views this matter as extremely serious since the handling of these matters and its implications for prison officers were raised with the Solicitor General’s Office since May 2011 when it was highlighted that the situation was severely damaging the morale of prison officers and reflected a poor image locally, regionally and internationally.”
The POA expressed its concern over recent statements by the Office of the Attorney General on television which allegedly appeared to convey negative connotations about Prison Officers in the conduct of their duties. “This is worrying and has deepened our concern about the Attorney General’s involvement in this investigation,” it said.
A dismissive Ramlogan last evening told Newsday, “The Prison Officers Association, if you want to look at the Prime Minister’s press release, were never a part of the committee. I invited them to make submissions and if they declined, well that is a matter for them.”
Last Wednesday in her statement, the Prime Minister mandated Ramlogan to meet with Justice Minister Emanuel George, Inspector of Prisons Daniel Khan, Commissioner of Prisons Conrad Barrow, acting Solicitor General Carol Hernandez and Chief State Solicitor Christophe Grant. Persad-Bissessar said she had noted the concerns of Donaldson-Honeywell in a recent media release and recent calls by the POA for a further probe.
In a statement last night, Ramlogan said he is setting up a committee of the State officials named by Persad-Bissessar and their first meeting will be on Monday at 1.30 pm.
He said the POA is not on the committee, whose probe will include allegations by the POA, yet he notified the POA of Monday’s meeting and gave them the chance to participate and share their concerns. He said his “negative” remarks about prison officers were based on High Court findings in judgements against Prison Officers whose conduct judges had condemned. He said the Sambury case is ongoing and so is sub judice, with Sobion-Awai to give an assessment on May 21, and he was advised by the acting Solicitor General that it is inappropriate for anyone to consider any such pending matter.
“I accepted this advice as it would indeed be improper and prejudicial for any enquiry or action to be taken that would pre-empt the findings of the court,” said Ramlogan. “The State is the defendant in this matter and it would be unethical and in breach of the Legal Professions Act for the Office of the Attorney General to take any action on any case which is still before the courts. To do so would violate the rule of law and prejudice the rights of the parties before the court.”
Ramlogan said an independent enquiry is underway by the Law Association.
“Master Patricia Sobion has referred the Jamal Sambury matter to the Registrar of the Supreme Court who in turn referred the attorneys involved and the case to the Disciplinary Committee of the Law Association.” He said the Legal Profession Act empowers that committee to investigate such matters.
“It would be improper for the Government as the executive arm of the State to trespass upon the role and function of the Law Association and the High Court as to do so would amount to a usurpation of their legal functions, undermine their authority and breach the separation of powers,” he added.
“The Attorney General and the committee can and will however review complaints about the conduct of prison litigation and address any concerns arising out of matters that have been completed and are no longer before the court,” he said.