BELEAGUERED lay assessor of the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (EOT) Veera Bhajan has received the court’s permission to challenge the refusal by the tribunal’s chairman to comply with an appointment by President Paula-Mae Weekes and to let her take up her position.
Bhajan received a three-year appointment on March 17.
She says she has been unable to take up the job since she took her oath, has not been given any information, is being treated with “scant regard,” and has not been paid for six months.
On Wednesday, Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams granted Bhajan leave to pursue her judicial review claim and gave orders for the filing of her fixed-date claim.
The judge has adjourned the matter to October 1 for case management, saying she agreed the matter should be given urgent attention.
Bhajan is represented by Alvin Fitzpatrick, SC, Rajiv Persad, Michael Rooplal, Rajiv Chaitoo and Shari Fitzpatrick, instructed by Gabrielle Hernandez.
Since Bhajan’s application for leave was “without notice” to the EOT, it will be served with the proceedings after the claim is filed. The Attorney General will also be served at this time.
Bhajan, an attorney, who was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Silver) in 2011, says she is being blocked from taking up the position of lay assessor and has accused the EOT and its chairman, Donna Prowell-Raphael, of acting in bad faith and in excess of their jurisdiction, depriving her of a legitimate expectation by failing to comply with the law.
Bhajan, who was born without arms, said after receiving her instrument of appointment, she tried several times by phone and e-mail to contact the tribunal about beginning her work there.
She said she was eventually told the tribunal did not have the “logistic and or financial wherewithal” to accommodate another lay assessor.
Prowell-Raphael also allegedly said she did not require an additional lay assessor on the basis of the tribunal’s limited workflow at the time.
“Such an assumption would result in that person being paid a substantial salary to remain home and do nothing. This is not only inconsistent with the policy of the tribunal but is imprudent and irresponsible at this time of national detriment and parsimony,” Prowell-Raphael was quoted as saying in her response to Bhajan.
Bhajan was also allegedly accused of using the wrong communication channel to liaise officially with the tribunal.
She also wrote to the President and informed her of what had thappened. She was told the matter had been referred to the relevant authorities and that in principle the President cannot reasonably object to her considering her legal options.
Bhajan maintains she remains lawfully appointed by the President as lay assessor of the EOT and has not been fired nor has her appointment been revoked by any court or by the provisions of the Equal Opportunity Act, which sets out the procedure for terminating the appointment of a lay assessor by the President on the recommendation of the chairman.
She will be asking the court to make several declarations that the acts of the tribunal and its chairman were null and void and go against the law.
Bhajan, who said she closed her private law practice to take up the position, also hopes the court will quash the tribunal and its chairman’s refusal to give effect to the President’s appointment and direct them to let her fulfil her duties.