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‘I’m dealing with 200 prisoners’ cases’

By JADA LOUTOO Wednesday, May 7 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Attorney Gerald Ramdeen...
Attorney Gerald Ramdeen...

ATTORNEY Gerald Ramdeen has publicly spoken out in his defence of his legal representation of prisoners who bring assault and battery claims against the State. Ramdeen’s name has been publicly spoken of in many quarters as it relates to one of his clients, remanded prisoner Jamal Sambury.

Sambury’s case is now before Master Patricia Sobion-Awai for assessment. In a ruling in February, she found that Sambury sought to mislead the court as to his injuries and the actual circumstances of his assault and battery by lifting significant portions of court filings from previous cases by prisoners making claims against the State.

She found the conduct of litigation by Sambury to be dishonest and an abuse of the court, but did not strike out the assessment of injuries and compensation since she found that he had in fact suffered injuries.

His hearing comes up again on May 21. The Master’s ruling has also been referred to the Disciplinary Committee of the Law Association by the Registrar of the Supreme Court. At a media conference at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain yesterday, Ramdeen said he has over 200 inmates in various lawsuits.

He said he found it necessary to clear his name because of all that has been said in the public domain as it relates to his law practice, particularly the issue of prison litigation.

“During my 14 years of practice I have conducted over 200 cases involving prisoners. There are many challenges associated with representing a prisoner who is incarcerated as opposed to a free man. The prisoner is at the mercy of the State and the authorities and his ability to give full and proper instructions and being interviewed is somewhat different,” he pointed out. He also said he has taken an interest in the welfare of prisoners, as the prison system was severely compromised and challenged as it relates to the issue of human rights and respect for prisoners.

Ramdeen said although focus has been given on a minority of cases in which prisoners have lost their claims in court, he was amazed that little emphasis has been made on “the debilitating and inhumane conditions and practices that exist in the prison.”

“In every case, the Court must decide and rule in favour of one party. If the Judge rules in favour of the prisoner he must necessarily reject the evidence of the prison officers as being untrue. Conversely, if he rules in favour of the State, he must necessarily reject the evidence of the prisoner as untrue,’ he pointed out.

As he referred to Justice Frank Seepersad’s ruling as well as the ruling of Justice Judith Jones in previous cases as it relates to prison claims, the lawyer said it was unfair for any journalist to “extract and publish quotes from three judgments during a career that has spanned 14 years with over 200 prison cases.”

“The State through the Ministry of the Attorney General has been settling and losing prison cases since I started practising law 14 years ago,” he pointed out.

Justice Jones in July 2012, in the case of Antonio Sobers, Gabriel Joseph and Clint Wilson, in a class-action lawsuit brought by 57 other prisoners, noted that statistics provided by the Judiciary revealed that a total of 427 cases of assault and battery filed in the High Court during the period September 16, 2005 to May 31 2012, 302 matters were alleging assault and/or battery by persons employed by the State.

She said this represented 71 percent of the cases alleging assault and battery filed in the High Court, excluding constitutional claims.

“The number of cases against the state jumped from 11 in the year 2006 to 97 in the year 2010... The cost of these actions to the reputation of the Police and Prison Services cannot be measured,” he said.

Of the 302 matters Justice Jones spoke of, 157 were determined and of those 120 resulted in damages being paid to claimants (prisoners) and of that 120 damages have been assessed totalling $10,265,776.14 in compensation to litigants.

At yesterday’s press conference, Ramdeen strenuously defended himself and said,

“I stand ready to defend my character and reputation and therefore welcome the reference of the Jamal Sambury case to the disciplinary committee of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. I have nothing to hide and would vigorously defend my good name.”

“I must however ask that the prejudicial, biased and damaging stories being written cease, so that due process and natural justice can be allowed to prevail,” he said.

Ramdeen declined to comment on the issue raised by Master Sobion-Awai as it related to the ‘copy and paste’ of witness statements by prisoners as Sambury’s case was before the courts as well as the Disciplinary Committee, however his colleague, attorney Wayne Sturge said it was common practice for attorneys to do so.

“I do not know of any attorney who types a document from scratch,” he said, adding it was a time-saving measure adopted by lawyers.

Ramdeen also sought to address the concern raised by former Solicitor General Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell in a letter to Prime Minister Kamla 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”.

Donaldson-Honeywell also referred to the retaining of lawyers by the Office of the AG who defended the State in civil law claims while going against the State in prison litigation.
Ramdeen who represents the State in several civil claims, including the Calder Hart and UTT cases, and who in 2010 was named by Attorney General Anand Ramlogan as a member of his A-Team, a group of lawyers mandated to lead legal and forensic audits and investigations into various projects undertaken by the former PNM regime, said there was no ‘conflict of interest’ in his taking State briefs.

He said under the Legal Professions Act, there were several precautions to be taken by lawyers before they take up State briefs. He said none of his State briefs involved prison litigation. Ramdeen added that the former SG Donaldson-Honeywell never raised the issue with him and was the person responsible for signing all his retainer letters when he was awarded State briefs.

He said her concerns raised in her letter must not have applied to him.
Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar last week instructed Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan to investigate concerns raised by Donaldson-Honeywell as it related to matters involving lawyers engaged in prison litigation.

The probe has been postponed following the death of the late Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal.

Amnesty International has also referred to the cases done by Ramdeen and his associates in its annual reports as they relate to prison beatings.

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