As indicated before, I did in fact investigate the concerns raised by former Solicitor General (SG), Ms. Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell, concerning prison brutality cases. I have found no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the allegations that lawyers in the Chief State Solicitor’s (CSS) department or the Solicitor General’s department were in collusion with prisoners or their attorneys to procure a favourable settlement.
I requested a report from the Acting SG, Ms. Carol Hernandez, on the specific cases raised and the documents on file revealed that none of the cases had in fact been settled. There was a trial in each matter and compensation was awarded by the court based on the evidence. Such evidence normally includes independent medical evidence from the hospital or prison doctor verifying the injuries sustained.
The procedure for settling cases does not leave any room for collusion. Files are randomly assigned to the legal teams selected by the CSS and SG. If the evidence justifies settlement the procedure is as follows:
1. The attorneys assigned from two different departments (Chief State Solicitor and Solicitor General) will prepare an advice with the reasons for recommending settlement.
2. The team leader would independently review this advice and may or may not recommend it to the SG for consideration.
3. The SG would independently review the file and recommend settlements to the AG if she is satisfied that it was justified and proper to do so.
4. The AG will then grant the final approval for the recommended settlement.
The AG cannot settle any matter on his own. The Chief State Solicitor and Solicitor General’s departments are independent departments under the supervision and control of the CSS and the SG. The lawyers are not selected by the AG but are appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC).
I remain ready and willing to investigate any case in which there is a cause for concern but I cannot and will not allow a cloud of suspicion to be cast over the heads of my attorneys without a shred of evidence. Should I find any evidence that is of concern, I will immediately refer the attorney (internal or external) for disciplinary action to the JLSC and the Law Association.
I remain receptive to any matter of genuine concern about prison litigation but stand on the side of my attorneys in this Ministry as they have conducted themselves in a professional manner with utmost integrity.
The settlement of prison cases predated my appointment as AG and it is mischievous for anyone to raise unspecified concerns that have no basis in fact. Indeed, the ultimate protection and safeguard against any form of impropriety is the SG as no case can be settled unless the SG first recommends same.
I am surprised that an issue is now being made about prison cases in light of the fact that the large majority of these cases were in fact settled under the previous administration long before I was appointed AG. It is incredible that no concerns were raised back then.
This fact is illustrated in the judgement of Madam Justice Judith Jones’s ruling in the case of Antonio Sobers vs the AG where she states that:
“In recent years there has been brought before the court an increasing number of cases alleging brutality by servants of the State and, in particular, police and prison officers. Statistics provided by the court reveal that of a total of 427 cases of assault and battery filed in the High Court during the period 16th of September 2005 to 31st May 2012. 302 matters were alleging assault and/or battery by persons employed by the State.
To put it another way, 71 per cent of the cases alleging assault and/ or battery filed in the High Court of Justice between 16th September 2005 to 31st May 2012 are cases alleging abuse by way of physical assault by servants of the State. The cost of these actions to the reputation of the Police and Prison Services cannot be measured. Nor am I qualified to assess the effect of this “institutionalised” violence on our increasingly violent society.
I can however compute the cost so far in terms of money to the State and ultimately to taxpayers. Of the 302 matters filed to date 157 have been determined; of these 120 have resulted in damages being paid to the claimant. From this it is reasonable to conclude that of the 157 matters completed 37 matters were found to be without merit.
Of those 120 actions damages have only been assessed in 100 so far. Awards with respect to interest apart the State has paid or is liable to pay some $10,265,776.14 in compensation to litigants with respect to these actions. These figures do not include those persons who would be entitled to damages pursuant to this judgment”.
Only Mrs Donaldson-Honeywell can say if she sent the letter dated 28th October, 2013 to the Office of the Prime Minister. It is in the public interest that she provides clarification on this because she did in fact advise me that it was sent and forwarded a signed copy to my office.
Dated: MONDAY 28TH APRIL, 2014.
MINISTRY OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
REPUBLIC OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO