AG gets interim report on missing file that cost State $20m
RETIRED judge Stanley John has delivered his team’s interim report on circumstances surrounding the State's failure to defend a malicious-prosecution claim by nine men accused of kidnapping and murdering businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman.
The claim saw the former accused receiving a $20 million court-awarded compensation almost two months ago.
A statement from the Office of the Attorney General said John and retired ACP Pamela Schullera-Hinds had delivered the interim report to Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC.
The release, which included a photograph of the investigative team, Armour and the ministry’s permanent secretary Natasha Barrow, said the AG thanked the two for their “thorough work and the expeditious delivery of their interim report within the mandated timeframe.”
It also reported Armour as saying he will consider it carefully and “looks forward to the equally expeditious delivery by the investigative team of the full and final report with recommendations in respect of their further terms of reference.”
The interim report addresses the first three of the nine terms of reference, the statement said.
On January 30, Master Martha Alexander awarded the men $2 million each in an assessment of their malicious prosecution claim, which went undefended by the State.
Two days after the court’s award, Armour told a news conference the first time his office had heard of the malicious prosecution claim was when the decision was given.
He said the file had gone missing.
John and Schulera-Hinds were hired to probe the disappearance of the file and identify what went wrong in the Office of the AG that led to the State's failing to defend the claim.
On February 7, in a bizarre development, John said the file had been found and handed over to the acting solicitor general.
He gave no details on where the file was found or by whom.
The team’s terms of reference were to look into the facts and circumstances from the time the men’s claim was served on the State in June 2022, a month after it was filed; the court’s decision; and the handing-over of the file on February 6.
They also considered the roles of the relevant office-holders in the State’s civil law department to determine if there was any dereliction of duty, violation of laws, conflict of interest or breach of trust.
In a brief statement at 6 pm on Monday, the Office of the Attorney General said the State had filed an application on the advice of retired judge Rolston Nelson, SC.
The release said the application is to set aside both the default judgment and the award of damages against the State in favour of the nine.
“Attorney General (Reginald) Armour SC awaits the fixing of the date for the hearing of this application and remains consistent in his commitment to ensuring that the public continues to be updated on the progress of this matter,” the release said.
The lead attorney for the nine men in the malicious-prosecution case, Anand Ramlogan, SC, had asked for a copy of John’s report at the end of the investigation in exchange for assisting the investigative team with copies of the e-mails he and his team sent to the Chief State Solicitor Department and the Solicitor General’s Department, in which the public officers were advised of court dates, were sent documents and generally provided with information on the progress of the proceedings.
In a televised statement on February 11, John said of his investigation, “Please know that this investigation, which I lead, is interested in one thing and one thing only. That is to say, uncovering and reporting, within our terms of reference, the truth about how the default judgment came to be entered and damages awarded against the State.”
John said they would be fearless, fair, objective, expeditious and careful. He asked the public to withhold judgment until the report was completed and told the media they would get a chance to ask questions after the team gathered information and deliberated on its findings.
“In the interest of transparency, there will be an opportunity to field questions from the media on this matter. However, that time is not now.”
Terms of reference
1. To enquire into the facts and circumstances relating to the matter of Shervon Peters and others against the Attorney General of TT, commencing from June 22, 2020, when service of the claim form and statement of case were effected, including the decision of the High Court dated the January 30, 2023, and culminating in the hand-over of the file to the acting Solicitor General on February 6, 2023.
2. To enquire into and establish the facts and circumstances regarding the role, or roles, played by any minister, member of the civil law department, or any person employed at the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs in the management and conduct of the matter.
3. To enquire into and establish whether there has been any dereliction of duty, violation of any law, conflict of interest and/or breach of trust on the part of any minister, member of the civil law department, or any other person employed at the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Legal Affairs in the management and conduct of this matter.
4. To enquire into and examine the current procedures of the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs and the civil law department, relative to the management and conduct of civil litigation involving the State.
5. To make recommendations to improve the management and conduct of civil proceedings, taken by and against the State at the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the civil law department, and to have recourse to such technology expertise as necessary.
6. To report in writing to the Judicial and Legal Service Commission any facts, circumstances or evidence which, in the opinion of the investigative team, may give rise to, show or establish the commission of any disciplinary offence by any officer in the judicial and legal service relating to the management and conduct of this matter.
7. To report in writing for the Director of Public Prosecutions any facts, circumstances or evidence, which, in the opinion of the investigative team, may give rise to, show or establish the commission of any criminal or fraudulent act contrary to the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, relating to the management and conduct of this matter.
8. To make such other and incidental enquiries which concern and relate to the subject matter of enquiry, as the investigative team may deem necessary. To give effect to any findings made by the investigative team and/or remedy or prevent any act or conduct, as may be found by the investigative team; and on the need, if any, to the enactment, amendment or repeal of any law of TT, relating to civil proceedings brought by and against the State.
9. To issue a report with recommendations to the Honourable Attorney General within 60 days of the establishment to date of this investigation on February 5, 2023, with reference to numbers one, two and three above; and a full and final report with recommendations within six months of February 5, 2023, with reference to numbers 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 above.
"AG gets interim report on missing file that cost State $20m"