Former Calypso Monarch Duane O’Connor is expected to learn the fate of his lawsuit, over being suspended from the T&T Police Service (TTPS) after being screened for the 2019 Local Government elections, in December.
High Court Judge Robin Mohammed reserved his judgement in O’Connor’s lawsuit after hearing submissions during a virtual hearing, yesterday afternoon.
Presenting submissions for O’Connor, Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan claimed that his client’s constitutional right to political expression was infringed when he was slapped with a disciplinary charge for “partisanship” and suspended by acting Police Commissioner Gary Griffith, last year. While Ramlogan admitted that Section 139 of the Police Service Regulations, which prescribes the offence, is not unconstitutional, he suggested that it only applies to public expressions of political allegiance by police officers.
Ramlogan claimed that when O’Connor agreed to appear before the People’s National Movement (PNM)’s screening committee it was on the understanding that his participation would be kept private and would only be revealed if he was selected and resigned from the TTPS.
“You expect the man to resign his job just to go to the screening. That is not right. That is disproportionate,” Ramlogan said. Ramlogan noted that there were no laws barring police officers and other public servants from voting or expressing their political views in private, as he pointed out that there were several instances of former judges running for elections. He also referenced the fact that Griffith was appointed as commissioner after serving as a Government minister.
“If you have the right to vote, you have the right to a political opinion,” Ramlogan said.
Ramlogan accepted that his client may have been prohibited if he worked in a division that was exposed to confidential national security issues but noted that O’Connor, who won the Calypso Monarch competition in 2012, was assigned to a Police Youth Club in Diego Martin. Ramlogan stated that after a senior officer from the Professional Standards Bureau (PSB) had conducted a preliminary investigation into the allegation and ruled that O’Connor had not breached the “partisanship” regulation, Griffith appointed a junior officer, who eventually laid the charge under the very regulation.
Responding to the submissions, Senior Counsel Reginald Armour, who led the Police Commissioner’s legal team, claimed that the court did not have the jurisdiction to deal with the case as the disciplinary charge should be properly considered by a disciplinary tribunal. He suggested that if O’Connor is aggrieved by the tribunal’s eventual decision, he was free to appeal to the Police Service Commission.
“The short point is this case should be out of court,” Armour said.
In his submission, Senior Counsel Russell Martineau, who represented the Office of the Attorney General, agreed that the tribunal had the authority over the case and the lawsuit only sought to delay its work. Martineau also suggested that based on the evidence in the case, it was clear that O’Connor had to answer the disciplinary charge.
“If you are going up for screening and show allegiance to a political party, you really think the public perception would be that you can carry out your functions impartially?” Martineau said.
Martineau suggested that the screening process was pubic activity, which O’Connor should have known is covered by the media as what occurred in his case and sparked the investigation.
Martineau stated that if O’Connor was successful in his lawsuit, he should not be entitled to compensation as he would be repaid the portion of his salary that was withheld during his suspension.
O’Connor was also represented by Renuka Rambhajan, Douglas Bayley, Ganesh Saroop and Alana Rambaran. Vanessa Gopaul and Rishi Dass appeared alongside Armour, while Keisha Prosper and Michelle Benjamin also represented the AG’s Office.