Ramesh: Laws exist to charge Paria for diving tragedy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Lead counsel for the Commission of Enquiry into the Paria diving tragedy Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj during one of the commission’s hearings in 2023. – FILE PHOTO

RAMESH Lawrence Maharaj, lead counsel for the Paria diving tragedy Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the death of four divers, says there is legal precedent in TT for the company to be charged with corporate manslaughter.

Maharaj’s statement follows the laying of the Jerome Lynch KC report into the February 25, 2022, tragedy in the Parliament by Energy Minister Stuart Young on Friday.

While he could not recall the specific matters of that case, Maharaj said there is legal precedent.

“There is a criminal offence in the laws of Trinidad and Tobago known as corporate manslaughter, and there is precedent for a court ordering that a charge be laid at the hearing of an inquest,” he explained.

The report has made recommendations for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to consider, including sufficient grounds to conclude that Paria’s negligence could be characterised as gross negligence, and consequently, criminal.

They recommend that the DPP consider charging Paria with what is commonly known as corporate manslaughter.

Attorney Prakash Ramadhar, who represented the Kurban family and the daughter of Yusuf Henry in the CoE, said only the DPP has the authority and power to lay a charge of corporate manslaughter.

Another recommendation for the DPP to consider in the report is a matter regarding offences under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act.

The commissioners concluded that there was evidence to justify the prosecution of Paria and the company’s operations manager Colin Piper, who testified that the risk was too great to rescue the divers. They also recommended charges against LMCS and its owner Kazim Ali Snr, who employed the divers, including Kazim Ali Jnr, contracted by Paria to carry out maintenance work on that fateful day.

It recommended that these matters be filed within two years of the incident, which would become statute-barred on February 24, 2024, just about a month away.

Maharaj was asked about the sufficiency of time to have these charges filed, given the one-month gap.

“If the law prescribes a particular time for charges to be filed and that deadline passes, then the charge would be null and void and of no effect,” he said.

He suggested that the report would be sent to the office of the DPP, so the DPP, the Attorney General and the Ministry of Labour, under which the OSH Act falls, would be responsible for taking action to say whether it goes to the police.

Ramadhar also offered an opinion on this recommendation.

“Every institution must continue their work and be prepared. Therefore, now that the commissioners’ report is in, there should be no basis for OSH Agency not taking action.” OSH Agency is the enforcement arm of OSH laws.

“If OSH fails to act within the time, then that would be a dereliction of duty, and it would be shocking and surprising, and there should be consequences,” Ramadhar said.

“But I do not imagine that would be a reality. I expect OSH, which has shown in the past to be very concerned about safety and well-being of citizens, would not allow that time to lapse where they may not be able to take action.”

Ramadhar welcomed the long-awaited laying of the 380-page report, which had several delays.

“I think the country deserves the opportunity to absorb the gravity of what will be conveyed therein, and hope the institution that has the responsibility to act, do so with the best possible respect for their duty.”

Ramadhar said he will use the weekend to study the report and host a news conference on Monday to declare his position.

Five LMCS divers, Fyzal Kurban, Kazim Ali Jnr, Yusuf Henry, Rishi Nagassar and Christopher Boodram were sucked into a 36-inch pipeline at Berth No 6 at Pointe-a-Pierre in February 2022. Boodram was the lone survivor.

The report was presented to President Christine Kangaloo on November 30, 2023.