Justice Allan Mendonca

Derek Achong

The State has won its appeal against a High Court Judge’s decision to award a former police inspector $300,000 for malicious prosecution.

Delivering a judgement electronically, yesterday, Appellate Judges Allan Mendonca, Mark Mohammed, and Peter Rajkumar ruled that High Court Judge Frank Seepersad made errors when he upheld retired Insp Harridath Maharaj’s case and ordered compensation in March 2016.

Mohammed, who wrote the judgement, noted that Seepersad made four material errors when he ruled that then-Assistant Superintendent (ASP) and now Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Harold Phillip did not have reasonable and probable cause to charge Maharaj for illegal logging.

He noted that even if the evidence had shown that Phillip did not reasonable and probable cause, the malicious prosecution claim would have failed as he (Maharaj) would not have been able to prove that Phillip acted maliciously in his investigation.

“As we have noted earlier, the investigation conducted by ASP Phillip was an exhaustive and very careful one. There is no indication that it was short-circuited,” Mohammed said.

In his lawsuit, Maharaj claimed that while assigned to the Santa Flora Police Station on August 30, 2003, he received a report of illegal logging at a forest reserve in Santa Flora.

He said that he went to the site of the illegal activity where he met a group of officers from the Forestry Division of the then Ministry of Agriculture who said they were cutting down the teak and cedar trees for a government minister and a senior official in their ministry.

Several days later Maharaj reportedly returned to the area with a tractor operator to collect the logs, had an argument with the group of forestry officers, and left empty-handed.

Weeks later, Maharaj was contacted by Phillip and informed that there was evidence to suggest that he was responsible for the illegal activity and had instructed the forestry officers to conduct the task. He was then slapped with two charges for felling the trees without having a permit from the ministry.

The charges were eventually dismissed after a magistrate ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove the case against Maharaj.

In its judgement, the Appellate Judges ruled that Seepersad placed too much reliance on the outcome of the proceedings before the magistrate and on the fact that Phillip’s case against Maharaj was based on circumstantial evidence.

They also claimed that Seepersad incorrectly ruled that Maharaj did not have a burden to prove that he had a permit to engage in the logging activity.

“The perceived deficiencies identify by the learned judge, when viewed individually or collectively, were not capable of demonstrating an absence of reasonable and probable cause. There was nothing to suggest that the investigation was anything other than thorough, methodical and painstaking one,” Mohammed said.

In the event, that Maharaj fails to appeal to the Privy Council or does so and loses, he will be required to repay the compensation he has already received.

Maharaj was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Ganesh Saroop, and Jared Jagroo, while Josephina Baptiste-Mohammed led the State’s legal team.