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Saturday 17 August 2019
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Judge awards municipal police over $85m

MUNICIPAL police officers – some 152 of them – are to receive a total of over $85 million in compensation for the contravention of their rights and freedoms.

The whopping court-ordered compensation was made by Justice Vasheist Kokaram at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, yesterday, after a 15-year-long litigation. Yesterday's compensatory order may be the largest in the country's history.

The judge was tasked with assessing compensation after the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, in January 2015, held that the Court of Appeal got it wrong when it overturned a decision to have their settlement assessed.

The officers were represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Vijaya Maharaj, and Nyala Badal.

In his decision, Kokaram said,” The solemn and sacred pact made by the State to treat its citizens with dignity, respect and in accordance with the rule of law has been broken.”

He said the officers’ self-worth and esteem that should come with their job had been crushed by the State’s “insensitive lethargy,” adding that labour should not be exploited.

Kokaram ruled that he included in the sum of compensation an amount to reflect their “distress, humiliation and injury” for being left in a “regulatory black hole.”

He made individual orders for damages, ranging from $700,000 to $900,000 each, based on their rank and if they had retired by the time the case went to the London court, saying although the rule of law may be cheapened by monetising it, there would be a continued injustice to turn a blind eye to the officers’ plight. He said the order also included a sum to reflect that orders made by a constitutional court must be obeyed by the State.

In their ruling in 2015, Lady Hale and Lords Wilson, Reed Toulson and Sir Patrick Coghlin upheld the appeal filed by the municipal police officers.

In 2003, now retired ASP Oswald Alleyne and other officers, took the State to court, saying municipal officers were discriminated against and treated unfairly, contrary to the Constitution.

Now retired Justice Amrika Tiwary-Reddy granted a declaration that the State, in failing and/or refusing to make regulations under Section 26 of the Statutory Authorities Act, denied these officers access to a court of justice for the determination of their rights and obligations.

The judge also granted a declaration that the State in failing and/or refusing to make regulations under section 60 of the Municipal Corporations Act and certain sections of the Statutory Authorities Act, denied the officers the right to such procedural provisions guaranteed to them under the Constitution.

She ordered the State to compensate the 152 officers for the contravention of their rights and freedoms, to be assessed by a judge. However, she dismissed their equal pay complaint, saying they did not produce sufficient comparative statistical evidence to establish that their duties were the same as regular police officers.

The matter was heard before Justice Amrika Tiwary-Reddy in 2005, but the State appealed and the local appellate court overturned the judge’s decision.

However, in their ruling, the Law Lords said no satisfactory explanation was given by the State for the failure to make any regulations under section 60 of the Municipal Corporations Act regarding the governance of municipal police services, or to make any of the Police Service Regulations applicable, contrary to the plain purpose of the statute.

“The apparent reason given for nothing having been done was that the Chief Personnel Officer regarded it as the responsibility of the Statutory Authority Service Commission, which under section 60 it was, but only the Personnel Department had the personnel capable of performing the task. It is not a case of the left-hand being ignorant of what the right hand is doing. Both the right hand and the left hand knew that the other was doing nothing,” they said.

“This lamentable and longstanding state of affairs has affected the constitutional rights of municipal police officers. They have a right both to equality before the law and to the protection of the law,” the Law Lords ruled.

They also held that the declaration made by the trial judge was correct in law and she had a good reason to make an order for payment of compensation for the breach of the municipal policemen’s rights. “The municipal police officers produced cogent evidence based on similarities between their responsibilities and those of the regular police officers and the development of significant pay differentials as a consequence of a re-evaluation of the national but not municipal services to suggest that their inability to present their case on pay and conditions to an independent adjudicatory was likely to have caused them loss. The denial of their rights was long-standing,” the Law Lords said.

They directed that there should be an award of compensation to the officers and for a judge to determine the amount of an additional award.

Kokaram did so and gave his decision on the quantum yesterday.

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