Trinidad DPP orders prison litigation probe

(Trinidad Express) In a statement with potentially explosive implications, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard yesterday announced he has directed the acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams, to “commence forthwith” a criminal investigation into “prison litigation matters” and “the prospect of criminal wrongdoing”.

Gaspard said he had received from the Registrar of the Supreme Court the decision of Master Patricia Sobion-Awai in the matter of Jamal Sambury vs the Attorney General and the transcript of the hearing of the Procedural Appeal. He said there was enough material to support an investigation. The DPP’s decision is the latest sequel to the issue arising out of the letter sent by former solicitor general Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell to the Prime Minister, requesting an investigation into circumstances “that may amount inter alia to breaches of professional ethics” by certain attorneys involved in prison litigation which “may have the effect of perverting the course of justice in litigation against the State”.

It has also come following Sobion-Awai’s call for an investigation to be launched into the circumstances surrounding how inmate Jamal Sambury was able to copy large portions of the witness statements of Jamal Fortune. Donaldson-Honeywell’s letter and Sobion-Awai’s call had been reported exclusively in the Express. “I have perused these documents and… I am of the unflinching view that there is more than sufficient material contained therein to warrant an investigation into the commission of seve­ral criminal offences including conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice and conspiracy to defraud the State of Trinidad and Tobago,” the DPP said. He pointed out this was apart from any ethical considerations, which “are outside of my constitutional remit”. Both the Attorney General and the attorney at the centre of the issue, Gerald Ramdeen, said they welcomed this probe.

The DPP’s language was very strong in addressing the matter. “It is my unyielding and considered view that a criminal investigation should be commenced immediately into the circumstances surrounding the conduct of the litigation in these matters,” he stated. It means an independent probe is now certainly on the way. The DPP has entrusted the probe to the police. “When I consider the nature and seriousness of this matter, the widespread public interest, the importance of the offices concerned and the necessity to ensure public confidence in them, as well as the fact that the primary body or person, charged with the prevention and detection of crime in Trinidad and Tobago is the Police Service, I have decided to advise the acting Commissioner of Police, Stephen Williams, to commence an investigation forthwith,” the DPP stated. He added quite apart from any constitutional considerations and from a practical point of view, it is clear an investigation by the Police Service is the most prudent course, as this is the organisation with the resources and investigative experience for such a serious task. “However, it is also clear that, in terms of the acceptance of any investigative findings, both in the courts of justice as well as the court of public opinion, such a course prevents any unfair allegation of bias being made about the Office of the Attorney Gene­ral or the incumbent and ensures that any police investigation is not in any way contaminated,” he said. Gaspard concluded: “It cannot ever be overstated that transparency is essential for there to be a fair and effective criminal-justice system, one that will inspire public confidence in the administration of justice, generally, and in the specific context of due process and the rule of law.”

The DPP’s statement appears to put into question the present consultations which were mandated by the Prime Minister and which are being conducted under the aegis of the Attorney General. The Attorney General had stated he had conducted an earlier enquiry and received a report from acting Solici­tor General Carol Hernandez on the prison litigation issue which showed there is no wrongdoing. Commenting on the DPP’s decision yesterday, Ramlogan stated: “I welcome any probe in the prison litigation matter from any quarter. I have nothing to hide. In fact, it doesn’t have anything to do with me. There was no allegation made against the Attorney General. So in the interest of transparency, wherever, whenever, however, it doesn’t matter. I think that to reassure the population… that any form of probe is welcome by the Attorney General.”

The DPP’s statement also comes one day after attorney Ramdeen held a news conference to defend his reputation and character. Commenting on the DPP’s announcement, Ramdeen, said: “I welcome the DPP’s intervention in this matter to bring a resolution to all the questions that have been asked. I trust that there would be a speedy investigation and I am confident that my name would be cleared at the end of this process.”

‘Word for word’ match

HIGH Court Master Patricia Sobion-Awai delivered a 24-page ruling on February 5, calling for an investigation to be launched into the circumstances surrounding how inmate Jamal Sambury copied large portions of the witness statements of Jamal Fortune. Sobion-Awai was presiding in the Port of Spain High Court when she delivered the ruling. Sambury, through his attorneys Gerald Ramdeen and Varun Debideen, had sued the State seeking compensation after being beaten by police officers. The State by consent accepted liability and the matter went for assessment before Sobion-Awai. However, the State contended that several discrepancies had come to its attention, including what it stated was the copying of a previous successful claimant’s statements. The signed statements in question were tendered by Sambury, and the State applied to have the entire claim struck out as it viewed the compensation claim as an abuse of process. Sobion-Awai did not strike out Sambury’s application, but ordered Sambury pay the State’s costs totalling $15,000.

In her ruling, Sobion-Awai said: “In this case, I found the claimant (Sambury) was guilty of abuse of the process of the court, in so far as he had copied extensively from the witness statement of another litigant.” Sobion-Awai further said: “To my mind, it was implausible that two persons could experience separate events involving different persons in such an identical manner. Moreover, when one looked at the shared grammatical errors, phrasing and sequence of events, the similarities were so startling that the only reasonable conclusion was that the claimant copied and presented as his own sizable portions of the witness statement of Jamal Fortune.” In outlining her ruling, Sobion-Awai said after considering the evidence and arguments, she was satisfied “that substantial portions of the claimant’s witness statement had been lifted from other witnesses statements, in an attempt to mislead the court as to the injuries the claimant had sustained and the actual circumstances relating to his assault at the hands of police officers. Accordingly, the conduct of the litigation by the claimant was found to be dishonest and an abuse of the process of the court”. The State then appealed the master’s refusal to strike out Sambury’s application, while Ramdeen cross-appealed on the issue of payment of costs.

The Court of Appeal panel comprising of Justices Alan Mendonca, Gregory Smith and Maureen Rajnauth-Lee on February 17 dismissed both appeals and agreed with the master’s decision on both issues. The appeal panel noted while Sambury had clearly committed an abuse of process of the court, the assessment of damages could still be carried out fairly, and referred the matter back to Sobion-Awai. This assessment comes up for hearing on May 21.

During its investigation, the Express found Sambury’s witness statement contained sentences and paragraphs which were copied “word for word” from the witness statement of Jamal Fortune. Sambury’s incident occurred on October 8, 2010, while he was at the holding cell of the Princes Town Magistrates’ Court. His statement was filed at the Port of Spain High Court on February 28, 2013. Fortune’s statement was filed in support of his claim for damages for assault and battery in relation to an incident which occurred at the Golden Grove Prison on March 1, 2009. The witness statements showed paragraphs eight, nine, ten, 11, 12, 15 and 16 of Sambury’s statement being identical to paragraphs six, seven, eight, nine, ten, 13 and 14 of Fortune’s statement. Fortune succeeded in his claim and was awarded $110,000 in general damages and $35,000 in exemplary damages on September 25, 2012. Express investigations have further revealed the similarities did not end there, as evident in the witness statements of Fortune and another successful inmate, Rodney Samaroo. Sambury, Samaroo and Fortune were all represented by attorneys Ramdeen and Debideen.

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