AG insists he won’t be intimidated – Auditor General stands her ground on legal representation

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC. – Jeff K. Mayers

AUDITOR General Jaiwantie Ramdass is standing her ground on her legal representation in defence of her actions in preparing her report on 2023 public financial statements.

On May 1, attorney Aasha Ramlal, of Freedom Law Chambers, led by former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC, responded to a letter from the Attorney General’s secretariat the night before.

Ramdass’s attorneys have written to Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, on her legal representation.

On April 29, Ramlal gave the AG until 4 pm on May 1 to answer her request regarding her legal representation. Chambers director in the Office of the Attorney General Solange De Souza on April 30, said the Attorney General was seeking legal advice on the request.

Later that night, she sent another letter to Ramlal addressing the earlier correspondence.

“You have expressed disappointment and concern over the fact that the Attorney General did not indicate when the issue of legal representation of your client would be addressed. You have also complained that statements by top government officials are widely published in the media. Finally, you have threatened that the exchange of correspondence will be disclosed to the court.”

In a lengthy response on May 1, Ramlal responded to De Souza’s letter, addressing each issue raised separately. It was addressed directly to Armour.

She said, “We are at a loss to understand why you would consider our statement that we intend to disclose the exchange of correspondence to the court as a ‘threat.’”

Ramlal said the statement, attributed to the Attorney General, that he will not be “intimidated by threats,” was “bizarre and irrational.”

“As you are aware, the Auditor General has a duty to make full and frank disclosure of all relevant correspondence to the court.”

Ramlal said this duty was established in law and to do otherwise would be in breach of the letter and spirit of the pre-action protocol practice directions.

“The issue of ‘threat’ and ‘intimidation’ might be more appropriate in the context of the Government’s conduct towards the Auditor General as opposed to this simple statement to confirm that we intend to discharge our professional duties by disclosing pre-action correspondence to the court,” Ramlal fired back.

She told the AG she fully endorsed and agreed with his position on the media’s right to publish.

De Souza had advised that the AG had no control over what the media published and he respected the“enshrined constitutional fundamental freedoms of the press and expression” and would not “even encourage any restriction

on the right of the media to publish.”

Ramlal said she shared the same view.

On the issue that legal representation for Ramdass raised the question of the use of public funds, De Souza said, “That must be a matter which requires full and mature consideration by the Attorney General.”

Ramlal agreed that legal representation for Ramdass would involve using public funds as the Office of the Auditor General was a public office, insulated from political influence, inference and control.

“It is difficult to understand what is meant by your statement that, ‘Your threatened litigation is one that is personal to your client and is not brought about of the inability of the Attorney General to provide her with legal advice with which he is in law authorised to provide her.’

“This is a shocking and mind-bogglingly incomprehensible statement. How on earth could the issues that arise in this controversy be ‘personal’ to her when it concerns the performance of the official duties of the Auditor General?”Ramlal questioned.

She admitted to being “deeply concerned” by this statement. She also said it appeared to signal an intention by the AG to “resile” from his written undertaking on April 19 when Ramdass was advised to retain independent counsel and was “prepared to pay reasonable fees incurred by you as Auditor General for the retention and obtaining of that independent advice.”

This was in response to Ramdass’s request for advice after she received a pre-action protocol letter over the auditing of the Government’s advice on April 17.

Armour said he was already advising the Minister of Finance on the matter.

In Wednesday’s letter, Ramlal told Armour “Your reasoning is, however, now complicated by the fact that you subsequently launched a scathing political attack against our client under the cover of Parliamentary privilege in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

“You vilified our client, accused her of misconduct and assassinated her integrity, character and reputation using the most derogatory of language.”

She also took issue with a statement that Ramdass’s request for independent legal counsel was “not brought about by the inability of the Attorney General

to provide her with legal advice with which he is in law authorised to provide her”

This, Ramlal said, was “unreasonable and absurd.”

“We are stunned by this statement because of your prior admission that you could not advise our client due to an obvious conflict of interest in light of the fact that you had already advised the Minister of Finance on this matter.

“Whilst you may be authorised in law to provide legal advice to the Auditor General in …ordinary circumstances, it is abundantly clear that you cannot do so in this matter because you have conflicted yourself.”

Ramlal said Armour was conflicted because he gave advice to the Finance Minister and had launched a “scathing and malicious political attack” on the Auditor General in both Houses of Parliament.

“There is therefore a grave danger of active and conscious political bias on your part in this matter.

“You knew that you could have provided legal advice to our client, however, you deliberately descended into the political arena and chose to attack her professional integrity and character.

“No lawyer can advise and represent a client that they have publicly vilified and humiliated in such a manner on the very issues that arise in their case. The fact that you seek to do so notwithstanding these facts, is nothing short of bizarre.”

Ramlal accused the Government of seeking to give a “one-sided, running ball-by-ball commentary” from its perspective in the Parliament.

She said this escalated the controversy that has “mushroomed and intensified.”

She rejected the suggestion that Ramdass was “duty bound” to seek legal advice from the AG.

Ramlal again expressed surprise that the AG has sought the advice of three attorneys – Douglas Mendes, SC, Simon de la Bastide and Kendra Mark-Gordon – on Ramdass’s request for legal representation.

“Our client has a constitutional right to retain and instruct attorneys of her choice. Whilst you may not like or agree with her choice of attorneys, you are duty bound to respect it.”

Ramlal acknowledged that Freedom Law had a long track record of representing public officers which “naturally, does not make us a friend of the State.”

“We do, however, wish to reassure you that we are accustomed to fighting for justice on behalf of our client and that we are committed to doing so in this matter.”

The Attorney General was given a new deadline of noon on May 2 to decide on the Auditor General’s legal representation or a claim will be filed in the High Court.