Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has taken issue with the way the lead attorney for a former Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) nurse has handled her three-decades-old case for compensation against the Government.
Wednesday the Prime Minister, who has been criticized for not granting the nurse an audience at Parliament Tuesday, all but accused Coral Wilkinson’s lawyer Sir Richard ‘Johnny’ Cheltenham, QC, of playing games with her matter which dates back some 34 years to 1981, charging it seemed the attorney did not want to see an end to the case.
Stuart, who confirmed he listened to the former nurse’s plight as recently as three weeks ago when she called him at home, said he first heard of her in 2008 when he served as Attorney General.
However, the Prime Minister insisted Wilkinson’s lawyer should get a judge to settle the matter.
“If they are not so happy with the judge’s settlement, appeal it. If they are not happy with what the Court of Appeal says, carry it to the Caribbean Court of Justice. That is how we do business in Barbados.
“This whole business of not doing anything, or not doing enough, and having her out there believing that somebody has wronged her, or somebody is delinquent in not responding to her [is unfortunate],” Stuart said.
The ex-nurse is seeking compensation so she can travel to the United Kingdom for surgery to ease the pressure on her lower back and stop the crippling pain.
She told Barbados TODAY in February she had received a letter from Principal Crown Counsel Roger Barker, who was handling the case on behalf of the Solicitor General, offering her $145,159.70 so she could have the cervical surgery done.
That offer was rejected in a letter dated March 12, 2015 from Sir Richard, who argued that “to offer the meagre sum in full satisfaction of her case, is virtually to condemn her to remaining in her presently helpless condition”.
While suggesting the sum of $400,000 instead, the lawyer advised that the Solicitor General’s offer did not even cover the cost of the medical team in England, whose maximum fee is £33,000, neither did it include the expenses of going to England, which comprised such things as air travel, food, accommodation, internal travel and per diem allowance.
In a follow-up interview with Barbados TODAY this week, Wilkinson said the Attorney General had spoken to Barker on December 24 last year to have her case dealt with expeditiously and that on March 15 this year Sir Richard had written to Solicitor General Jennifer Edwards, QC, asking that the case be processed with the urgency it deserved.
Not satisfied with the speed with which her case was being processed, Wilkinson said she called the Prime Minister three Sundays ago and was told he would speak with the Attorney General, who later told her that everything was on stream for this month.
Saying she was now at her wits end, Wilkinson said she was left with no choice but to head to Parliament yesterday to try to appeal directly to Stuart and other members of his Cabinet in the hope they would listen to her cry for urgent settlement to her case.
She was denied her desired audience by security guards and had to be assisted by Member of Parliament for St Thomas Cynthia Forde and two members of the Royal Barbados Police Force after she fell several times within the precincts of Parliament.
In addressing the issue Wednesday, Stuart accused the former QEH nurse’s lawyer of wanting the Solicitor General’s chambers to “meekly, submissively, and compliantly, give them what they want”, but he warned, “it doesn’t work that way.
“So they are preparing to keep a client waiting for 21 or 25 years instead of pursuing the case to conclusion through the place that we know best, the court. So rather than call her lawyer she calls me. She has come down to Government Headquarters before, she has come up to the Attorney General’s Office before. I know Miss Wilkinson very well.
“I think this matter has to be brought to a conclusion. I do not remember all the details of the case now, but I don’t think there is any excuse for it being as old as it is,” Stuart argued.