Social and political activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj has won his lawsuit against the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) over the disclosure of information related to its wire-tapping activities.
Delivering a 26-page judgement electronically on Thursday, High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad ruled that the SSA incorrectly refused Maharaj’s request, made under the Freedom of Information Act in March 2017.
According to the evidence presented in the case, Maharaj sought the information as he was allegedly concerned over whether the SSA’s power of interception was being properly utilised and wanted to highlight potential deficiencies and make proposals for improvement.
Maharaj was seeking information on the number of interceptions performed without judicial warrants between 2015 and 2016, the agency’s financial records for that period and the number of regional and international conferences attended by SSA personnel, as required under the SSA Act.
The SSA refused the request and sought to have Rampersad strike out the lawsuit soon after it was filed by Maharaj. The application to strike out was eventually dismissed by Rampersad and upheld by the Court of Appeal.
In his judgement, Rampersad rejected the SSA’s claim that the disclosure of the number of interceptions was not required as it would improperly reveal the agency’s capacity to perform such interceptions, under the Interception of Communications Act.
Noting that the requested information was four-years-old, Rampersad said: “There seems to be no substantive basis to justify such an exemption and having failed in its burden of proof in that regard, there is no reason why the information ought not to be provided.”
In terms of the information about regional and international conferences attended by SSA personnel, Rampersad also ruled that it should have been disclosed as it would not reveal the content of the meetings or compromise international relations, as contended by the SSA.
“The court is of the respectful view that the refusal seems rather unreasonable and the blanket refusal of this request for the reason given seems to be some sort of template response rather than a genuine consideration of exactly what was requested,” Rampersad said.
Rampersad rejected Maharaj’s request for the financial statements, as he noted that they were yet to be audited by the Auditor-General and would be disclosed once completed and laid in Parliament.
While Rampersad ordered the disclosure of most of the information sought by Maharaj, he refused to grant a declaration that the SSA acted illegally in refusing his request, as he (Rampersad) stated that such relief was not required.
As part of his decision, Rampersad ordered the State to pay Maharaj’s legal costs for bringing the lawsuit.
Maharaj was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Gerald Ramdeen, Douglas Bayley and Vishaal Siewsaran. Deborah Peake, SC, Randall Hector, and Diane Katwaroo represented the SSA.