Privy Council rules in favour of Prisons Welfare Officer
By JADA LOUTOO Saturday, August 18 2012
A PRISONS Welfare Officer II who was by-passed for promotion to the post of acting Chief Prisons Welfare Officer has been granted leave by the Privy Council to seek judicial review.
The London Law Lords ruled that the Public Service Commission acted unlawfully in treating Harinath Ramoutar as ineligible to be considered for appointment to the post of acting Chief Prisons Welfare Officer, by reason only that he did not have a degree in social work from a recognised institution or equivalent.
Ramoutar had in July, 2007, applied for the post of acting chief welfare officer at the prison, when the office became vacant, when the substantive officer holder was transferred.
The position was initially filled on an acting basis by the then senior Prisons Welfare Officer holding the rank of Prisons Officer II, the rank immediately below that of Chief Prisons Welfare Officer.
That person was due on leave, and since the position would be vacant again, it was decided to replace him with another acting office holder, until the permanent holder returned.
Ramoutar was the next most senior Prisons Welfare Officer II, and he applied for the job.
Ramoutar was written to by the Commissioner of Prisons in response to his application. Ramoutar was told that a list of the qualities required, among the formal qualifications, a “bachelor’s degree in social work from a recognised institution, or equivalent.”
In his letter, the commissioner pointed out that Ramoutar did not have such a degree, and said that for that reason he was unable to recommend him for promotion.
Ramoutar filed for leave for judicial review, but was turned down by the local courts.
In their ruling, Lords Walker, Kerr, Sumption, Carnwath and Sir Stephen Sedley noted that while the courts do not sit as a court of appeal from the decisions of the Commissioner of Prisons, or the Public Service Commission, and are in no way concerned with the merits of candidates for promotion, or the micro-management of personnel decisions in the Prisons Service. They were concerned that public bodies carry out their functions within the ambit of the law.
“The difficulty in this case has arisen from the fact that the Prisons Commissioner and the Public Service Commission treated the possession of a degree as a matter of threshold eligibility, when it was not.
“They therefore, never performed their statutory function of considering Mr. Ramoutar’s application on its merits,” the Law Lords said.
They also noted that neither the commissioner, nor the PSC applied the general rule of selection by seniority, prescribed by the PSC’s Regulations, nor considered whether to depart from the general rule in all the circumstances of this case.
It was in that regard that the appeal was allowed and leave granted to Ramoutar to apply for judicial review.
The Law Lords said since the appointment of acting Chief Prisons Welfare Officer had taken effect, and the period for which an acting office-holder was required had now expired, there was no point in quashing the decision, or remitting it for reconsideration.
Sir Fenton Ramsahoye,QC, and Tom Richards appeared for Ramoutar at the Privy Council, while Peter Knox, QC, represented the PSC and the Prisons Commissioner.