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AG seeks answers

Published: 
Thursday, June 8, 2017
Devant Maharaj and Justice Frank Seepersad

Attorneys for the State are suspicious of how so many high-profile cases filed by former United National Congress ministers are all ending up before the same judge and has written to the Judiciary seeking answers.

Correspondence exchanged between the Attorney General’s Office and the Registrar of the Supreme Court detail a list of queries and alludes to what judicial sources described as “forum shopping” in order to get a specific judge to hear the case.

In the instance of the lawsuit challenging the property tax, the case filed by former government minster Devant Maharaj had initially been assigned to Justice Robin Mohammed, but was withdrawn, amended and refiled within 24 hours before it was assigned to Justice Frank Seepersad.

Maharaj’s legal team said there was nothing sinister when the matter was filed on May 18 and withdrawn within 24 hours, because the events detailed in the initial lawsuit had changed significantly and the documents had to be redrafted.

At the time the initial lawsuit was filed the deadline date for the submission of Valuation Return Forms was May 22, but the filing attorney claimed she was alerted by a T&T Guardian online story which stated Finance Minister Colm Imbert had announced at a post-Cabinet press conference that he had extended the deadline date to June 5. As a result, Maharaj’s lawyers claimed the documents had to be amended.

But former attorney general Anand Ramlogan SC yesterday dismissed claims his client was “forum shopping” and described the suggestion as a “preposterous and ridiculous allegation” in an interview with Guardian Media.

In an interview last night, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said he had instructed that a letter be written to the Registrar “to deal with the open and very politically charged allegations made by Ramlogan and repeated by the Opposition Leader that there was some conspiracy between the Judiciary and the Attorney General as to the management of this case and in particular the Court of Appeal appointment and hearing on the Monday following the injunction on the Friday.”

Al-Rawi said it was also necessary to write the Registrar on two separate occasions—the first issue was to respond to claims made by Ramlogan regarding the timeline of events after the injunction was granted and in a separate correspondence was to document the inspection of the case as “we were informed but could not confirm that several cases were filed.”

“It was important for us to identify the number of cases the State needed to prepare for to litigate,” Al-Rawi said.

Asked whether such correspondence can also have the effect of eroding the public’s confidence in the Judiciary, Al-Rawi said: “I personally have tremendous confidence in the Judiciary and I’m aware of the processes for the docketing of matters before judges, and the State is not going to be made a party to any criticism of the Judiciary as we maintain a proper regard for the separation of powers.

“We will vigorously and robustly prosecute the right of the State, including any defence, in which we are called to litigate.”

Maharaj, in a statement, accused the Government of launching a “politically motivated attack” against Seepersad. He said the People’s National Movement had “a history of attacking judges when things do not go their way.”

Maharaj said the computerised system of allocating cases to judges was “under the control of the judiciary and the Registrar of the court.”

“My case against the JLSC was filed and I was advised by the court registry that it was assigned to Justice Seepersad. I was told that this was a random assignment. What was I supposed to do?” he asked.

He said the first judge assigned to the property tax case was Justice Robin Mohammed, who was the trial judge in Ramlogan’s defamation case against former minister Jack Warner and awarded $1 million to Ramlogan.

“I was not unhappy that the computer had randomly assigned a different judge when the amended claim was re-filed, as I did not want anyone to think that Justice Mohammed would be biased in my favour because he had ruled in favour of my lead attorney in that high-profile defamation case,” Maharaj said.

“It is therefore ironic that this mischievous claim is being made now, as this was the very thing I had sought to avoid. If the judiciary has a problem with the way its computer programme randomly selects and assigns judges to try cases then I suggest that they deal with it instead of trying to blame innocent citizens for matters they have no control over.”

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