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PM mulls concerns

By SEAN DOUGLAS Tuesday, May 6 2014

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ASSURANCE: Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams gives his assurance that investigations are proceeding at pace in the assassination of attor...
ASSURANCE: Acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams gives his assurance that investigations are proceeding at pace in the assassination of attor...

THE murder of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal has led Attorney General (AG) Anand Ramlogan to postpone yesterday’s meeting over the prison litigation controversy, said a statement from the AG’s Office yesterday.

Seetahal was murdered last Sunday morning in Woodbrook in an apparent “hit” which the police said entailed two vehicles and military-grade assault rifles.

Last week, Prime Minister (PM) Kamla Persad-Bissessar caused public disquiet when she named Ramlogan to head an investigation into allegations of corruption in prison litigation allegedly involving private attorney(s) hired by his Ministry to defend lawsuits which were allegedly settled out-of-court too quickly in favour of inmates alleging abuse in jail. Critics wanted an independent body, not the AG, to do a probe.

The AG’s statement blamed yesterday’s postponement on the tragic circumstances of Seetahal’s death and the resulting emergency meeting of the National Security Council called yesterday, even while saying the PM will use the time to mull the prison litigation affair.

The statement related that last Wednesday, Persad-Bissessar had directed the AG meet stakeholders namely the Acting Solicitor General, Commissioner of Prisons, Inspector of Prisons, Minister of Justice and Chief State Solicitor, to find a way forward on the matters involving lawyers engaged in prison litigation.

“In light of the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal and the emergency meeting of the National Security Council called for today as a result, this meeting planned for today has been deferred,” said the AG’s statement. “The Honourable Prime Minister will also use this period to give deeper consideration to the concerns expressed by the Prison Officers Association (POA).”

Last week the POA said it would not meet the AG whom they did not think was impartial enough to do a probe which they said should instead be done by an independent investigation. Previously, former Solicitor General (SG) Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell had bypassed the AG to write to the PM on her concerns over prison litigation, but the PM sent the letter to the AG.

Allegations of corruption and collusion by private lawyers hired by the AG’s Office first arose last February when High Court master, Patricia Sobion-Awai, said inmate Jamal Sambury’s lawsuit against the State contained plagiarised statements from another plaintiff’s lawsuit, leading Donaldson-Honeywell to ask the PM to probe possible breaches of professional ethics and perversion of justice.

In Seetahal’s last Express column last Saturday, “Investigate what exactly?”, she had questioned the many calls for a probe into prison litigation. Seetahal said Donaldson-Honeywell’s letter of complaint had asked the PM to probe three matters which Seetahal argued would be best probed by the Law Association (as the body named by statute to set standards amongst attorneys).

Seetahal said the former SG had complained firstly of attorneys hired to defend the State from certain civil law claims while acting against the State in prison litigation. The second complaint was of a Prison Service legal officer who threatened to report the former SG to the Law Association after the former SG told the Prison Commissioner that the legal officer had worked on prison matters with State attorneys with whom an internship was in the works, only for the legal officer’s internship to be with an attorney who does prison litigation against the State.

Thirdly, Seetahal said the former SG had complained that the AG had not helped issue public relations statements in prison litigation cases won by the State. Seetahal asked “by whom and into what” should an investigation be done?

“In all three cases, it appears she (former SG) is referring to ethical breaches of the Code of Conduct — abuse of process, conflict of interest, and advertising — which ought to be considered by the Disciplinary Committee of the Law Association,” claimed Seetahal.

“If there is evidence of ‘an unethical business venture engaged in by attorneys-at-law’ acting for prisoners or of ‘key office holders’ taking action to support the unethical business for financial gain, why has she not referred it (to the Law Association)?”

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