Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says he is disturbed by news that the state failed to file a defence in an over $20 million malicious prosecution case brought by nine men, who were freed of the murder of businesswoman Vindra Naipaul-Coolman.
He made the comment yesterday, as news that the men had won a record $20 million overall, and $2.1 million each, brought public outrage in some quarters.
Rowley said just like the nation, he too wanted an explanation from the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs. He said the Cabinet has no role in court proceedings but, like the public, follows the matters made public.
“I have seen the news. It is very disturbing, and as a result, I too, am waiting to hear what the office of the Attorney General has to say tomorrow (today),” Rowley said, referring to a media conference to be held on the matter by the Office of the Attorney General today. “Clearly, this is an unsatisfactory situation, and I am waiting to hear what the facts are, but this is not what one expects in situations like these.”
Meanwhile, an investigation has been launched into the circumstances surrounding the State’s failure to file a defence.
Energy Minister Stuart Young, who was acting for Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Reginald Armour, who was out of the country on Government business and expected to return last evening, made the announcement in a press release yesterday.
Young also promised that a media conference will be hosted today to address the matter further.
Legal sources yesterday claimed that although the State could appeal the outcome of the case, it would be difficult to succeed, based on the fact that it failed to file a defence or present evidence in opposition to the claims made by the group’s expert witness.
Attorneys Martin Daly and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, both Senior Counsels, refused to comment on the matter yesterday, saying they would prefer to wait until more information is made public.
On Monday, Shervon and Devon Peters, their brother Anthony Gloster, Joel Fraser, Ronald Armstrong, brothers Keida and Jameel Garcia, Marlon Trimmingham, and Antonio Charles were each awarded $2.1 million in damages as High Court Master Martha Alexander assessed the compensation in their case.
The group filed the lawsuit almost four years after they were freed of the charges in late May 2016.
The Office of the Attorney General entered an appearance in the case but failed to defend it, leading the group’s legal team, led by Anand Ramlogan SC, to successfully obtain a default judgement against it in January 2021.
“The present matter, therefore, was a substantial one that the defendant chose neither to defend nor to call any evidence save to appear at the assessment to be heard on quantum,” Master Alexander said.
In determining the appropriate compensation for the group, Master Alexander considered the evidence of clinical psychologist Isolde Ghent-Garcia, who conducted detailed psychological assessments on all the men except Gloster, who was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Diego Martin in late 2021.
Gloster’s father was allowed to continue to pursue the case and will now receive the compensation on behalf of his family including his two grandchildren from his son.
In her reports, Ghent-Garcia said all eight men suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), major depression, and generalised anxiety, which was a direct consequence of their spending almost a decade on remand before being freed.
Master Alexander also strongly considered the “horrendous” prison conditions they had to endure before their eventual release and the impact of the failed prosecution on the men’s reputations.
Master Alexander also ordered $100,000 in exemplary damages to mark the court’s disapproval and condemnation of the oppressive, arbitrary, and unconstitutional actions of the prison officers, who supervised the group while they were on remand.
The men claimed that they were forced to drink juice that was “sweetened” with salt, with one claiming to have suffered kidney malfunction as a result. They also claimed they suffered mental torture, as they were forced to listen in to younger inmates being raped by veteran residents.
“Such thuggish and outrageous treatment meted out to our citizens who are pulled out of society, imprisoned, and prosecuted for inordinately lengthy periods, are chilling and must not be allowed to reoccur,” Master Alexander said.
As part of her decision in the case, Master Alexander ordered the State to pay interest on the compensation at a rate of two and a half per cent per annum from when the case was filed in 2020. She also ordered the State to pay the $68,000 for Ghent-Garcia’s expert evidence and the $200,000 in legal fees for the case.
The group was also represented by Renuka Rambhajan, Ganesh Saroop and Natasha Bisram.
The AG’s Office was represented by Karen Reid-Ballantyne and Amrita Ramsook.