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Golden Grove Prison, Arouca

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The Court of Appeal has rejected an appeal over a judge’s decision to partially uphold the class action lawsuit of a group of prisoners, who were beaten by prison officers, police officers and soldiers following sustained rioting at the remand section of the Golden Grove Prison, Arouca, in 2006.

Delivering a judgement yesterday, Appellate Judges Nolan Bereaux, Peter Rajkumar and Vasheist Kokaram dismissed the State’s appeal over the lawsuit, which was brought by Gabriel Joseph, Antonio Sobers and Clint Wilson on behalf of themselves and 54 fellow prisoners.

In the appeal, the Office of the Attorney General was challenging the judgement of former High Court and Appeal Court Judge Judith Jones, who partially upheld their assault and battery lawsuits in July 2012.

Justice Jones had upheld Joseph and Sobers’ cases, which were brought on behalf of prisoners who, like them, claimed that they suffered injuries and received treatment in the prison’s infirmary and at hospital.

Jones rejected the case for Wilson, who represented the majority of the prisoners and like them could not provide medical records to prove their injuries.

Justice Jones did not immediately assess the compensation due to Joseph and Sobers and the prisoners, whose cases were bound by the outcome in theirs, as she referred the issue to a High Court Master. The AG’s Office appealed the judgement before the assessment began.

Justice Rajkumar, who wrote the appeal judgement, noted that attorney Gerald Ramdeen, who led the prisoners’ legal team, stated that the judge’s findings over the injuries and the disproportionate force used against the prisoners should not be invalidated, as there was no evidence that they were wrong even with respect to his clients, who lost their case.

“Commendably, he (Ramdeen) contends that if the judge’s findings of fact supporting the claims of Mr Joseph and Mr Sobers should not be interfered with, in principle this will equally apply to findings of fact made by the trial judge with respect to Mr Wilson,” Rajkumar said.

Rajkumar agreed with the position and found that the judge had sufficient evidence to buttress her conclusions that Sobers was shot in his face with a rubber bullet and Joseph was removed from his cell and beaten after the riot was brought under control.

“The trial judge was entitled to find on the evidence that the use of force on both Mr Sobers and Mr Joseph was not reasonable or proportionate to any threat they posed at the time they received their respective injuries,” Rajkumar said.

He also ruled that Justice Jones was right to reject the case of Wilson and his fellow prisoners who could not substantiate their allegations through independent medical evidence.

However, despite his ruling in the case, Justice Rajkumar questioned how the prisoners’ cases were categorised to be bound on the outcome of the trio’s.

He noted that there was no evidence that they were all similarly circumstanced in the necessary manner at the time of their injuries.

“The rationale for a case being selected as a binding case should be based on an established common logical, factual and material connection with respect to the circumstances of the persons in the class,” Rajkumar said.

He suggested that it should not have been based on whether they sought documented medical treatment, but rather whether the force applied to them had been done by agents of the State, whether the injuries they claimed had not been exaggerated and whether they had been resisting apprehension or had been subdued when the injuries were inflicted.

The appeal panel requested written submissions on the issue.

The prisoners were also represented by Umesh Maharaj and Dayadai Harripaul.