POLICE Commissioner Erla Christopher has drawn the ire of a High Court judge after she suspended the firearm user’s licence (FUL) of an ex-UNC candidate and businessman a day after the court ordered its return.
The FUL, No 91/2015, was temporarily suspended on March 16 and the commissioner signed and published a notice the next day notifying of its suspension “to safeguard the safety of the public.”
Tristan Bonterre, a director of Property Secure Plus Company Ltd, had applied for judicial review after his licence was suspended when he was charged with common assault arising out of an incident on October 2022.
He obtained an interim order on March 15 from Justice Devindra Rampersad, who ordered the return of the FUL.
However, the commissioner intervened after the judicial review application had been filed and informed the court of her intention to suspend the licence.
It was this action that drew the ire of the judge, who ruled that her decision had the “effect of frustrating this court’s order made on 15 February 2023.”
However, he did not order the return of the FUL, as he was told the decision would be the subject of another judicial review action, and because, “as the guardian of the rule of law, the court cannot shut its eyes to what has happened in terms of the process by the person charged under the statutes with the responsibility to maintain and monitor the firearms’ licence process.”
Rampersad said, however, the decision to suspend the FUL could have been made long before March 15.
“The court does not accept the submission made by counsel for the first respondent and the intervener that the intervener only entered office on 2 February 2023 and therefore ought to have been given the benefit of the doubt in relation to the timing of the decision.
“In fact, it is in the public domain that the intervener was appointed as the acting Commissioner of Police on or around 8 December 2022 when the then acting Commissioner of Police went on holiday. That was not pointed out by counsel for the intervener and it ought to have been,” he said.
He said it was the failure to “act with alacrity” that led to the court's having to engage in the application for interim relief,” and it should have been dealt with more expeditiously, “rather than dragging it out for an unnecessarily long period of time.”
He also said the court was concerned about the “abuse of power” and the decision to suspend the licence was made “with the direct intention of frustrating this court’s order.”
It was for that reason he ordered the commissioner to pay the costs of the application and invited the parties to submit arguments on whether it should be on an indemnity basis “as a result of this seemingly egregious conduct,” or otherwise.
Bonterre is represented by attorneys Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Narendra Lutchman. Keron Ramkhalwhan and Delise Springer represented the commissioner.