Law Association reports ‘Skippy’ to police

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The Law Association has asked the police to look into the academic qualifications when Thomas submitted to be admitted to practise as a lawyer.

The Law Association of TT (LATT) has filed a criminal complaint against Opposition activist and radio talk-show host Junior Barrington “Skippy” Thomas. It is calling on the police to investigate what it says are bogus academic qualifications which Thomas submitted to be admitted to practise as a lawyer.

The complaint, dated August 19, a copy of which has been obtained by Sunday Newsday, was delivered to acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob and sets out a series of events between April 13 and May 19, detailing LATT’s attempts to verify a diploma Thomas submitted from a purported UK university.

On April 13, Thomas, 47, applied for a certificate of fitness from LATT, which is needed for admission to the roll of attorneys “duly qualified to practise law” in TT.

As part of that process, for people who obtain law degrees in the UK, LATT must get proof that the applicant has passed the legal practice course at an institution validated by the Law Society of England and Wales.

According to the complaint, Thomas submitted a postgraduate diploma in professional legal practice from Colston University dated June 16, 2016.

Questions were raised during the verification process and LATT sought a legal opinion on the matter.

Then, on May 13, LATT was notified by e-mail by an assistant registrar of the Supreme Court that Thomas was seeking to be admitted to practise law in TT via a petition to the High Court without a certificate of fitness, and the matter had been listed to be heard that same day before Justice Joseph Tam and Sharon Gibson.

LATT president Sophia Chote, SC, and Kavita Roop Boodoo, a legal officer of the association, attended that hearing and the matter was adjourned to allow the association to complete its investigation into Thomas’s qualifications.

During the investigatory process to verify the authenticity of the diploma from Colston University, the association made enquiries of the Solicitors Regulation Authority in the UK, which provides a listing of all institutions authorised to provide legal practice certificates.

According to the complaint, “The LATT caused an examination of its own records to determine if any previous applicant had submitted a legal practicing certificate issued by Colston University but found none. Further enquiries were then made to the Department of Education in the United Kingdom, the Office of Students and a degree verification website service “Prospect Hedd” but the LATT was still unable to verify that Colston University was a duly registered institution or that it was authorised to issue the legal practice certificate.”

According to the complaint, on May 19, the association contacted the president of the Law Society of England and Wales and received a response on May 27 from Richard Jones, the engagement manager (Wales) of the Law Society which supported its position.

LATT said the Colston University Twitter page @ColstonUniversity1 “appears on the face of it to be a made-up institution and photographs used on the Twitter page are stock photographs. The Twitter account refers to coronavirus information issued by the Welsh government while Colston University purports to be based in London.

Jones said in his opinion “having been a qualified document examiner with the UK Home Office, that the certificates that was provided by the LATT, (albeit a low resolution black and white scan) does appear to be a counterfeit.”

A google search for Colston University is directed to a Twitter account, opened in February 2021, with an image of two buildings and a coat of arms dated 1998. It states “Welcome to Colston University official Twitter profile. Follow to keep up-to-date with what’s new with us.”

Law Association of TT president Sophia Chote, SC, attended a hearing at the High Court on Junior Barrington Thomas’s petition to be admitted to practise in TT without a certificate of fitness. File photo/Jeff K Mayers

A Google search on the London address on the Twitter account – 182-184 High Street, London, – appears to be a service address and not a university campus. Colston University joined in February 2021 with just 221 followers. The last tweet was dated April 13, 2021.

On its Facebook page, Colston University on May 7, 2021 says:

“Do you want to obtain University Degree from UK? By clicking on the url, a message says the domain “may be for sale.”

A post pinned to the link states Buy University Degree with an accompanying website buybritishdegree.com but after clicking the link a message states “This page doesn’t seem to exist.”

The social media site describes Colston University – https://colstonuniversity.co.uk – as “a world leader in modern distance learning edu.”

In a March 6, 2021 post, the university makes reference to spring semester unlike term as other UK universities use. There are no earlier posts than March 6, 2021.

Sunday Newsday learned that in light of the findings, LATT submitted an affidavit detailing its efforts to verify the authenticity of Thomas’s diploma in responseto the petition he filed seeking admission to practise in TT. The court subsequently dismissed the application, even though Thomas’s lawyer tried to withdraw the matter.

LATT, through its secretary Bijili Lalla, called on the acting CoP to investigate to determine whether any criminal charges arose and submitted all the supporting documents it had gathered during its own probe.

Contacted for comment via his mobile phone on August 25, Thomas said: “This is the first time I am hearing about those issues, and until I am properly advised on those issues, I have no deficit of lawyers, and we will respond appropriately and if anything is written that is not substantiated properly or is libellous of course the courthouse is there to deal with those issues.”

Asked if he had applied for a certificate of fitness, Thomas said he had already given his comments on the matter and repeated his previous comment. He said when he is informed about it officially, not by a journalist, he will treat with it at that time.

He later said the allegations were “baseless” and the questions posed to him “were laced with misinformation.”

Thomas said LATT was “inviting me back into the arena after taking a conscious decision to stay away and remain quiet.

“After I speak to the police, if they come to me, the police will be a very busy organisation concerning the Law Association.”

He claimed the association “never told me what the issues were. This is the first time I am hearing it from a reporter. He who alleges must prove and I am not worried the least about that.

“And the battle will only last until the last man is standing,”

Thomas said he had filed a complaint on June 8, as a civic-minded citizen and not on behalf of the UNC or its political leader, seeking an investigation into Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, over his role in a US multi-million-dollar civil-forfeiture lawsuit against people charged in the Piarco Airport corruption case.

In May, a US judge in a Miami court disqualified Armour and the US law firm hired to represent TT in the case because of Armour’s previous role as a defence lawyer for former government minister Brian Kuei Tung, one of those accused in the Miami case.

Jacob on August 26 said he had received the complaint from LATT and that it had been forwarded to acting deputy commissioner Wendell Williams for action.