ATTORNEYS for the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA) and public servant Cheryl Miller are anxious for the hearing of an appeal against a judge’s order that she should receive compensation for the public humiliation she endured when she plucked from her desk at the Ministry of Gender Affairs, Youth and Child Development in March 2012, and detained at the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital for more than two weeks.
However, the appeal has been adjourned to October 15, after attorneys for the regional health authority asked for additional time so that its senior counsel can argue the appeal.
Attorney Devesh Maharaj, who appears with Senior Counsel Russell Martineau for the health authority, asked for the adjournment, but stressed that the case was an important one as it has “put a cloud over mental health workers, who have become cautious and reluctant to do their jobs.”
Miller’s lead counsel, Stanley Marcus, SC, who resisted the application for the adjournment, told Justices of Appeal Allan Mendonca, Nolan Bereaux and Peter Rajkumar the other side was anxious to have the matters started.
Before the appeal court are an appeal by the regional health authority and a separate appeal by Miller of Justice Judith Jones’ decision to make no orders against the ministry’s permanent secretary and deputy permanent secretary.
The judges agreed the matter was significant and granted the adjournment.
In response to a query by the judges, attorneys for both sides indicated that the judgment sum of $835,000, as ordered by the court, had not yet been paid to Miller, as neither side was pressing the issue until the appeals were determined.
In June 2015, Jones held that that she was satisfied that Miller would have been “greatly humiliated and embarrassed” by the way she was taken from her desk, in the presence of colleagues with whom she had a running dispute.
She also held that Miller’s distress was further compounded by her being taken onto the street and put in an ambulance, and even further aggravated by the widespread publicity that her apprehension and detention at the mental hospital attracted.
“The fact that calypsoes were composed and sung about her meant the circumstances and manner of her detention were kept in the public eye, thereby increasing and intensifying her humiliation and embarrassment,” Jones noted as she awarded Miller general, exemplary and aggravated damages to the sum of $835,000.
In making her finding of culpability for false imprisonment against the NWRHA, the body with authority for the mental health workers who detained Miller at the ministry and detained her at St Ann’s, the judge held that the permanent secretary (PS) and deputy permanent secretary exercised poor judgement.
She said PS Sandra Jones and Deputy PS Jasmine Pascall had a situation to deal with in the ministry, but could have dealt with it differently, and avoided the drastic consequences on March 21, 2012, on the 21st Floor of Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, where the ministry is located.
She said it was “regrettable and irresponsible” that neither prevented Miller’s apprehension, but acted on reports given to them and on observations made of their employee, for whom they were merely seeking assistance.
Miller’s case made national headlines when she was detained under Section 15 of the Mental Health Act, which says on the orders of a mental-health officer, a person who looks mentally ill may be taken to a mental-health institution if they are found wandering at “a highway or public place.”
She was released from the hospital after a 17-day stay, after Justice Vasheist Kokaram ordered her “discreet and dignified release” and psychological evaluation by an independent practitioner.
A report by psychiatrist Dr Gerard Hutchinson and submitted to the court found she did not pose a danger to herself, or to members of the public.
In her 34-page ruling, Jones said she did not determine the validity of allegations of Miller’s “misbehaviour or inappropriate conduct,, both at home and at work.
“It is enough that they have been made,” she said. Instead, she focused on whether the action by the mental health workers in taking Miller into custody for admission to St Ann’s was authorised by Section 15 (1) of the Mental Health Act; whether her apprehension and detention at the hospital was lawful, and who was liable, and the quantum of damages to be awarded.