A retired police officer was given the green light from the Court of Appeal to take his malicious prosecution challenge against a deputy Commissioner of Police to the Privy Council.
Harridath Maharaj was granted leave to appeal the reversal of a decision which held that then Assistant Superintendent Harold Phillip was influenced by senior public servants in his prosecution for illegal culling and felling of trees in 2003.
Justices of Appeal Mark Mohammed, Gillian Lucky and Mira Dean-Armorer gave Maharaj the all clear to take his case to the Privy Council. They held they were satisfied that Maharaj raised genuine issues of public importance.
In his submissions at the conditional leave hearing, Maharaj’s lead counsel, Anand Beharrylal, SC, argued that there was a genuine point of dispute since the lower court’s findings of fact were reversed by the appellate court.
In July, Justices of Appeal Allan Mendonca, Mohammed and Peter Rajkumar reversed the 2016 judgment of Justice Frank Seepersad in which he admonished Phillip and advised the police service to guard itself against actual or perceived political influence.
He awarded close to $300,000 to Maharaj and said in his decision, “Policing is serious business and requires impartiality and keen sense to do that which is just and right.”
Maharaj, who himself was investigating a report of illegal felling of trees along the main ridge of the Mahaval Forest Reserve, Santa Flora, was told by a Forestry Division officer Keith Jaggernath, who were near a number of felled trees, that they were doing so at the instruction of a government minister.
Maharaj was instead arrested and charged for illegal felling of trees by Phillip. He attended court on 48 occasions before the two charges were dismissed. In his decision, Seepersad said a more thorough investigation should have been conducted by Phillip prior to the institution of the charges.
However, Justice Mohammed, who delivered the appellate court’s decision, said there was nothing to support the inference that Phillip was “was actuated by matters extrinsic to the investigation, for example, the influence of senior public servants, not affiliated with the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, in an attempt to protect senior government officials.”
“In totality, there is nothing to suggest that the sole or dominant purpose of the prosecution was one other than for the proper invocation of the criminal law,” Mohammed said as he set aside all of Seepersad’s orders. He also held the circumstances of the case did not establish malice.
Also appearing for Maharaj are attorneys Alvin Pariagsingh and Jared Jagroo. The State was represented by Corinne Findley.