Court orders $85 million payout to municipal police

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

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