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Friday 6 December 2019
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Judge: Fired SSA director’s rights were infringed

FIRED director of the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) Bisnath Maharaj has won his constitutional claim against the State for his dismissal from the agency in 2015.

On November 13, 2015, Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon wrote to Maharaj telling him his appointment as director had been revoked.

Maharaj filed a constitutional claim alleging that no process was used in the revocation of his appointment, nor was he provided with any opportunity to be heard or any reasons for his firing.

In a decision delivered on Monday, Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell ruled that the decision to revoke Maharaj’s appointment was not arrived at fairly.

She declared that his right to the protection of the law, in accordance with section 4(b) of the Constitution, had been violated and breached. She also declared that his rights not to be deprived of the right to a fair hearing with the principles of fundamental justice for the determination of his rights and obligations were also violated.

She ordered the State to pay Maharaj damages, including vindicatory damages, as well as costs, which are to be assessed by a Master of the High Court.

He was represented by attorneys Anand Ramlogan,SC, Gerald Ramdeen and Jared Jagroo. Douglas Mendes, SC, Michael Quamina, Kristal Madhosingh and Kadine Matthew represented the State.

Donaldson-Honeywell had to determine liability in relation to Maharaj’s claim for constitutional relief.

Maharaj was a police officer for over 34 years, ranked as acting ASP and was an attorney when he was appointed director of the SSA in April 2012 for two years. He was told he would be granted a leave of absence from the police service without pay to take up the directorship, on the grounds of public policy.

On April 17, 2014, he was reappointed SSA director for three years, but a little over one year into his reappointment, he was fired.

In its defence, the State argued that Maharaj was not entitled to any process of natural justice as it related to the termination of his appointment, because no such process was set out in statute, and it was not open to the court to imply a right to be heard.

However, the judge said the State cited no authority to establish that Maharaj's being employed in an office that had a role in law enforcement and the fight against serious crime meant he had lost his right to due process.

She added, “Indeed, it is patent in my view that there was manifest unfairness in the way in which the claimant was terminated.”

She also said, “This case strikes at the very heart of the right to procedural fairness and the rule of law. Absolutely no process was followed in dismissing the claimant from his position. This contravenes the principles of procedural fairness and the rules of natural justice.”

The judge said the SSA Act, though clear that termination could occur at any time, did not provide that the director could be dismissed at any time with or without just cause and without any opportunity to be heard.

Donaldson-Honeywell also held that Maharaj’s claim was not an abuse of process, as argued by the State.

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