A HIigh Court judge has ruled that the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) acted illegally when he imposed a fee on a business owner who requested a copy of a fire report.
In a ruling delivered last week, Justice Ricky Rahim held that the levy of a fee to be paid by members of the public for a fire report did not incur a fee in accordance with provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Businesswoman Kalawatie Godek applied for the report on September 14, 2016, two years after a fire at a restaurant at the Grand Bazaar shopping mall on October 17, 2014, damaged her store and goods.
She made the request with the intention of instituting a claim for compensation against the owners of the restaurant. In response, the Chief Fire Officer adopted the position that the report would be made available when she paid a fee of 0.05 per cent of the insured value of her building, in accordance with the Fire Service Act (FSA).
Godek was represented by attorneys Jayanti Lutchmedial and Douglas Bayley, of the Freedom Chambers. In his ruling, Rahim held that it was illegal to impose a fee under the FOIA, since the FSA only prescribed a fee for insurance companies. “What is pellucid is that the schedule applies only to applications from insurance companies and not to members of the public generally,” he said.
The judge said there was a good reason for this, since insurance companies were in the business of providing compensation for loss. “In essence it is a profit-making venture for the insurance company. The position of a private citizen who wishes to obtain information to approach the courts to obtain redress for a wrong allegedly committed against her carries with it different considerations.”
The judge also quashed the decision of the CFO to impose a fee, which he said was illegal and in breach of the process and provisions set out in the FOIA.