Minister to sue Government – Cummings wants police to ‘correct’ his record

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Youth Development and National Service Foster Cummings. – File photo

YOUTH Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings will bring a civil case against the state as a private citizen for misuse of private information, breach of confidence and breach of his constitutional right to privacy stemming from the leak of a secret Special Branch report in 2022.

At a media conference on June 8, his attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, said the case stemmed from the leak of the report to Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial, who read it out on a political platform on May 5, 2022.

Maharaj said the minister’s claim against the state was for the breach by organs and/or servants and/or agents of the state to permit/allow the private, secret and confidential information contained in the secret Special Branch note to be published by an opposition senator. He said that amounted to a breach of Cummings’s constitutional right to privacy and amounted to the civil wrongs of misuse of private information and breach of confidence.

Maharaj added the publication of the note scandalised the minister, caused him reputational damage and caused him and his family distress and embarrassment.

Maharaj said while the Special Branch could gather intelligence, what was prohibited was for intelligence units to allow the secret, private and confidential information gathered to be published to the public and the media.

Maharaj said since the compilation of the report, and even since it was announced by Lutchmedial-Ramdial, the police, including the Special Branch, had not contacted Cummings to answer any of the allegations in the report, although it says investigations are ongoing.

He said Cummings was anxious to “correct the false personal information stated in the secret Special Branch note which then became part of the police records.”

He said the first option explored was to appeal to CoP Erla Harewood-Christopher to correct his records.

“The minister was advised by his lawyers that under the Freedom of Information Act, where the police (have) false personal information stored about individuals, those individuals can make an application to the CoP to correct the false and inaccurate information. If the CoP refuses, the individual can apply to the High Court for judicial review for the High Court to order the CoP correct the information. “

Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC. –

Maharaj said Cummings’s legal team wrote to the CoP on May 3, 2023, asking for the records to be corrected. No response was received and a second letter was sent on July 10.

A response was received from the police service’s legal unit on August 7, asking for an extension to August 21 for the CoP to provide a response. This was agreed to on August 9. No response was received on August 21. A follow-up e-mail was sent by Cummings’s lawyers on August 21, to which the legal unit promised a response. To date, no response was received.

Maharaj said Gary Griffith was the CoP at the time of the compilation of the Special Branch note. In a radio interview on May 10, Griffith said in his personal view, the note was “no fact, no evidence and nothing to accuse anyone.”

Maharaj said the period to apply for judicial review through the High Court had expired owing to the delays, as a claim for judicial review has to be filed no later than three months from the time the CoP’s decision was made, in this case in May 2023.

Maharaj said based on a decision by the UK Supreme Court, comprising the same judges who sit on the judicial committee of the Privy Council, in the case Bloomberg LP v ZXC 2022 UKSC 5, Cummings was advised that “he has an unanswerable claim against the state for the breach of his fundamental right of privacy and the torts of misuse of private information and breach of confidence,” based on the leakage of the Special Branch note to the opposition senator.

Maharaj said a pre-action protocol letter was sent on October 18, 2023, to the Attorney General (AG) as a representative of the state, informing it of the damage done to the minister’s character and that the minister would seek to get the court to vindicate his character and reputation.

The AG, according to Maharaj, said on October 23 that the state could not be liable for the disclosure of the information unless the minister was able to give the names of the officer(s) of the State who leaked the information.

Cummings’s attorneys responded on October 23 that there was no legal obligation for him to know the names of the officers “because the undisputed evidence shows that, on a balance of probabilities, the state was responsible for disclosing private and confidential information to the opposition senator.”

In a letter dated December 4, the AG said the state was not liable because no one had been authorised to disclose the contents of the note. The lawyers responded on December 20 that the Privy Council had ruled in Thornhill v the AG of TT that police officers carried out the essential functions of the state and the state was liable for their actions.

Maharaj said Cummings would be seeking general and exemplary damages for the two torts of misuse of private information and breach of confidence as well as compensatory and vindicatory damages for the breach of the right to privacy.

“The minister made it clear to his legal team that if he is awarded damages, he intends to set up a special fund in his constituency for the constituents to reap the benefits by assisting the needy people in the constituency and young people for their lives to be improved.”

Attorney General Reginald Armour could not be reached for comment.