A High Court judge has ordered the State to pay 134 municipal police officers over $85 million in compensation at the end of their 15-year legal battle over their inability to negotiate for equal pay and conditions as regular police officers.
In 2003, Oswald Alleyne and 153 of his colleagues, who are assigned to municipal corporations across T&T, sued the State as they claimed that they were discriminated against by Parliament’s failure to enact regulations which would allow them to file lawsuits in the courts challenging their compensation packages.
Their case was upheld by former High Court Judge Amrika Tiwary-Reddy before being overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Although the Appellate Court denied their right to compensation, it ordered Parliament to pass the regulations under the Municipal Corporations Act and Statutory Authorities Act.
However, by the time the United Kingdom-based Privy Council upheld the officers’ appeal in 2015, Parliament had only just begun to attempt to comply with the order.
Delivering a 28-page judgement on Thursday, High Court Judge Vasheist Kokaram assessed the compensation owed to the officers, many of whom have since retired.
Nineteen officers, who failed to produce evidence before Kokaram, were denied compensation.
In analysing the compensation due to the officers, Kokaram noted that their initial claim to be automatically granted equal pay had failed in the local courts.
Kokaram stated that he calculated the probability of them winning a case in the Industrial Court, if the regulations were in place for them, at 60 per cent.
As a result, they received that percentage of the difference in the compensation or retirement packages for them and regular police officers. Kokaram also granted each officer between $100,000 and $150,000 for the distress and humiliation they suffered for being left “in such a regulatory black hole”.
Each officer was also awarded $300,000 in vindicatory damages to highlight the importance of preserving their constitutional rights and an additional $80,000 for the State’s failure to enact the regulations within a reasonable time.
“The addition award to be made to each claimant is to underscore the fact that orders of a constitutional court must be obeyed by the State,” he said.
His calculations meant that each officer is set to receive between $596,845.20 and $993,847.48, based on their rank and if they had already retired when the Privy Council delivered its decision.
As part of the judgement, Kokaram ordered the State to pay the almost $1 million in legal costs the officers would have expended throughout their protracted lawsuit.
Kokaram also noted that the issue raised by the officers is still yet to be resolved.
“These MPOs have still not accessed the Industrial Court to articulate an improvement in their terms and conditions of employment due to continuing uncertainties with respect to the regulations to treat with this case in monetary terms in light of these regulatory gaps may bring little real comfort to those claimants who are still in the municipal police service,” he said.
Kokaram noted that as part of his role in the case, he suggested that the officers form a panel, which would make recommendations to Parliament on the regulations within a four-month period.
“Simply to turn a blind eye to the obvious continuing injustice would only, I fear, increase the claimants anguish over the true meaning of vindicating constitutional rights and indeed, effective constitutional remedies,” he added.
The officers were represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Vijaya Maharaj and Nyala Badal. The State was represented by Neal Byam, Monica Smith and Avaria Niles.
- by Derek Achong