A staff sergeant with the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force will receive compensation for the “undue delay” to hear military charges against her.
In a recent ruling, Justice Jacqueline Wilson said staff sergeant Ayiola Rudder-Warner was entitled to damages for the breach of her right to the protection of the law.
On January 30, 2024, the judge will give her decision on damages.
According to her lawsuit, Rudder-Warner was recommended for promotion to the rank of warrant officer in 2019 and proceeded on “privilege leave” into resettlement training that year. Her lawsuit said in April 2021, an assistant chief staff officer (ACSO) made a “non-recommendation” for her promotion to warrant officer 2 (WO2) and again in March 2022.
The lawsuit further contended the ACSO had no authority to recommend or make a “non-recommendation” against her. Rudder-Warner was then slapped with five disciplinary charges for minor offences for allegedly being tardy in rectifying salary deductions but the lawsuit said investigations revealed the allegations were not true.
She was further accused of failing to provide progress reports and absenteeism. The charges were heard on September 20, 2022, four days before her compulsory run-out date which is when she would have had to demit office unless promoted.
“The delay in dealing with these charges was in itself grossly prejudicial to the applicant as she could not be promoted whilst they were outstanding,” the lawsuit said. She was eventually found guilty of “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline” for breaking the chain of command to ask for time off and for not carrying out the proper drill.
She was admonished on the first charge and four days' pay was deducted from her salary on the second charge.
That same day, her commanding officer told her he was recommending her for promotion.
“This recommendation has not taken effect,” her lawsuit said.
It also noted that in December 2021, the Chief of Defence Staff agreed to keep one of 20 spots for promotion open should she receive a positive recommendation.
“A legitimate expectation was therefore created and reneged upon by the commanding officer of the TT Regiment causing the applicant considerable mental anguish and distress. There is no justifiable reason for the applicant to have been allowed to be discharged from the service to the TTDF given all the circumstances.”
The lawsuit said her service having been terminated, she has suffered a loss of pay and the opportunity to serve for another three years had she been promoted in time.
“The applicant has also been forced to suffer the ignominy of having those junior in rank to her being promoted and continuing in service whilst she has had to unceremoniously depart from the career that she has dedicated her quality years of life to.”
In defence, the State argued that there was no delay in the hearing of the charges. It was pointed out that the covid19 pandemic led to the shutdown of several operations in TT for months because of public health regulations so it was not “far-fetched to note that there would be a backlog of cases in the system that need to be dealt with.”
The State maintained that the Defence Force Act that a court-martial could be determined within three years from the date of an offence so “nine-18 months to determine five charges was completely reasonable.
“There was no inordinate, inexplicable delay by the TTDF in the context of the case.”
In her ruling on the complaint, the judge found there was “undue delay” in hearing the military charges and this delay breached Rudder-Warner’s right to the protection of the law.
Rudder-Warner was represented by attorneys Arden Williams, Mariah Ramrattan and Shelly-Ann Daniel while the Attorney General and the commanding officer of the TTDF were represented by attorneys Avaria Niles and Maria Belmar.