ACCESS to justice is a pivotal part of any functional democracy and is indispensable for the rule of law, a High Court judge has held as he declared that a decision by the Minister of Labour to rescind a trade dispute, because of a spelling error, was irrational, unreasonable and unduly disproportionate.
On Monday, Justice Frank Seepersad quashed a decision of the minister to rescind a certificate of unresolved dispute which prevented Mitoonlal Persad from arguing his matter, through the Sanctuary Workers’ Union (SWU), at the Industrial Court.
He has also ordered that the minister reconsider the decision to rescind the dispute and re-issue it, in the correct name of the trade union, within 14 days.
The judge was asked by SWU and Persad to review the decision of the minister after the certificate of unresolved dispute was rescinded because it bore the name Sanctuary Trade Union and not that of SWU and the former was not a registered body.
Seepersad was asked to determine if the decision by the minister was reasonable and proportional in keeping with legal principles in judicial review cases.
In his ruling, he said, any decision which “interferes with a citizen’s fundamental rights such as his/her ability to access justice, is one, which must attract the court’s anxious scrutiny.
“The court can and should in such a circumstance use the tool of proportionality in its determination as to whether such a decision should stand.”
He said where a decision by a public authority impacted a fundamental right, the decision maker must consider the relevant criteria and adopt a proportional approach and weigh all the relevant factors and consequences before coming to a final position.
Seepersad said the decision of the minister, on April 10, 2018, to rescind the dispute directly affected Persad’s ability to access the Industrial Court.
He pointed to evidence in the case which showed that the ministry had, in the past, treated with trade disputes from the union although the name of the union was erroneously used.
Seepersad said, after the error in the name was discovered, the ministry could have convened another meeting and correct the defect in the name, as the Industrial Relations Act empowered the minister to request further particulars on matters involving trade disputes.
He said the careless use of the trade union’s name was minor.
“The defendant seemingly focused upon the form of the complaint without due regard to the substance of same and no evidence was adduced to establish that consideration was given to the effect which the rescission decision would have occasioned upon the second claimant (Persad).
He said the court could not sanction the approach by public bodies who elect to exercise statutory powers in an impractical, overtly technical or draconian fashion and will anxiously scrutinise decisions which impact upon fundamental rights.
“An innocent and/or unintentional defect such as the name error which occurred and which error occasioned no prejudice, detriment, hardship or lack of clarity as to identity of the parties involved, should not have been used to curtail or trample upon the second claimant’s right to have his unresolved dispute determined by the Industrial Court,” the judge held.
The union was represented by attorneys Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Tacklalsingh and Rhea Khan.