High Court Judge James Aboud

A former student of St Joseph’s Covent, Port-of-Spain, has been granted an interim injunction extending the time for her to accept an Additional scholarship, as she fights a legal battle over her failure to attain an Open scholarship.

High Court Judge James Aboud granted the interim order to Aaliya Benjamin-Roach when her judicial review lawsuit against the Ministry of Education came up for hearing at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning.

Benjamin-Roach’s lawyer Keith Scotland said the order was necessary as the ministry’s offer of an Additional scholarship will expire on February 17 and the lawsuit is still at a preliminary stage. He said it would ensure that Benjamin-Roach benefits from a national scholarship even if she eventually loses her legal challenge.

Before granting the order, Aboud confirmed that no other scholarship winner would be affected by Benjamin-Roach’s lawsuit and the associated interim relief. He also confirmed that the Ministry of Education, which was not represented at the hearing, had been served with the lawsuit.

Aboud was initially hesitant in hearing the case as he noted that his daughter Vivian attended the same school as Benjamin-Roach and also completed Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations (CAPE), last year.

He noted that his daughter and her two older sisters had all won Open scholarships but chose to decline.

“We offered to give it back so more needy students could benefit. They (the ministry) said it goes back to the Consolidated Fund,” Aboud said, adding that from his knowledge scholarships are not awarded to others once recipients decline to accept.

As part of the decision, Aboud suggested that the case be expedited so that Benjamin-Roach’s tertiary studies are not delayed by another year.

In the lawsuit, Benjamin-Roach, who obtained ten Grade 1s in Pure Mathematics, French, Physics, Chemistry, Caribbean Studies, and Communication Studies, is contending that she was wrongly assessed by the ministry when she was awarded the Additional scholarship in the Natural Sciences category.

Benjamin-Roach’s lawyers are contending that she would have earned an Open scholarship in General Studies if the ministry applied the policy that was in place when she registered to do the subjects in 2017 and not a new one established in January last year.

Open scholars are funded for their undergraduate studies at any recognised tertiary level institution around the world, while Additional Scholars receiving funding for undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus, or any other local recognised institution.

Both scholarships constitute a loan, which scholars repay through national obligatory service or a refund with interest.

Benjamin-Roach’s lawsuit comes less than a month after Nicholas Sant, a past student of Presentation College in Chaguanas, won his similar lawsuit over the ministry’s move to retroactively adjust its scholarship policy, in 2018.

In that case, High Court Judge Nadia Kangaloo ruled that the decision as unfair, irrational, and unreasonable as Sant had a legitimate expectation that the policy that applied, when he chose his subjects in 2016, would stand when national scholars were selected two years later. Kangaloo ordered that the ministry reassess Sant using the old policy within five days of her judgement on January 13.

Benjamin-Roach is also being represented by Asha Watkins-Montserin and Jacqueline Chang. Her case is expected to come up for hearing on March 9.