‘Skippy’ loses Law Association police complaint lawsuit

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Barrington “Skippy” Thomas

A HIGH COURT judge has dismissed a lawsuit by Tobago talk-show host Barrington “Skippy” Thomas against the Law Association (LATT) for filing a criminal complaint against him.

In an August 19, 2022, complaint, the association called on the then police commissioner McDonald Jacob to investigate what it said were “bogus” academic qualifications Thomas submitted for admission to practise as a lawyer.

In a ruling on Thursday, Justice Ricky Rahim held there was “more than sufficient evidence” before the association “to cause suspicion” so the decision to report Thomas was reasonable and rational.

“It is not devoid of logic or outrageous. Neither was it designed to embarrass or humiliate the claimant.

“The LATT was, in the court’s view, acting consistent with its public statutory duty set out in the Legal Profession Act (LPA) to protect the interests of the legal profession.”

He said LATT did not have to decide if Thomas committed an offence.

“That, of course, is a matter solely for the police.

“Therefore, it cannot be the case that the claimant would have had a right to be heard before the body who held no responsibility for determining whether he should be charged with an offence.”

On April 13, 2022, 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. However, questions were raised during the verification process and LATT sought a legal opinion on the matter. Thomas’s previous criminal conviction was also raised by LATT as a concern.

After he did not receive the certificate of fitness, Thomas filed a petition in the High Court to be admitted to practice law.

This was eventually dismissed.

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

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, 2022, the association contacted the president of the Law Society of England and Wales and received a response on May 27, 2022, from Richard Jones, the engagement manager (Wales) of the Law Society that supported its position.

In his lawsuit, Thomas said he only knew of the criminal complaint after reading it in the Sunday Newsday on August 28, 2022. He claimed Sunday Newsday editor Darren Bahaw, who wrote the story, told him he received a bundle of documents from the LATT. Thomas claimed this was done to malign him.

Rahim said it was unlikely that Bahaw, a well-known reporter, would have disclosed his source and go against the ethics of his profession. He also said disclosure would have served no discernible purpose.

On LATT’s duty of fairness, the judge said the association owed several duties to several people.

“In this case, the evidence is clear that in relation to the convictions and the existence of Colston University, more than sufficient enquiries were made of him by the LATT in an attempt to determine whether he met the criteria for the issuance of the certificate of fitness.”

Thomas was also given ample opportunity to respond and had been treated fairly, the judge said. Rahim also said there was no evidence of malice against Thomas.

“He has presented not an iota of such evidence save and except for his bald statement.”

Thomas was ordered to pay the association’s legal costs.

Thomas represented himself at the trial of his judicial review claim before Rahim while LATT was represented by its past-president Douglas Mendes, SC, its president Lynette Seebaran-Suite and attorneys Aaron Mahabir and Vishala Khadoo, both of whom are junior ordinary members.