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Royal Bank Independence Square, Port-of-Spain.

The Estate Police Association (EPA) has secured a lifeline in its legal battle with RBC Royal Bank (T&T) Limited over its move to retrench 14 estate police officers, who were deemed redundant in 2014.

Delivering a judgement on Friday, Appellate Judges Nolan Bereaux, Mark Mohammed and Mira Dean-Armorer ruled that High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad got it wrong when he dismissed the EPA’s judicial review lawsuit over the refusal of the Special Tribunal of the Industrial Court to hear and determine its challenge.

The dispute stems from a decision taken by the bank in May 2014.

The matter came up before the Special Tribunal, which is comprised of the Chairman of the Industrial Court’s Essential Services Division and two other members, but it (the tribunal) refused to hear the case.

The tribunal’s decision was due to there being no EPA branch board for the bank, no agreement between the EPA and the bank, and because estate constables are not considered workers under the Industrial Relations Act and Retrenchment and the Severance Benefits Act.

In dismissing the EPA’s subsequent High Court challenge Justice Rampersad ruled that although the tribunal’s decision could be reviewed, it (the tribunal) was correct to decide that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear the challenge.

In its judgement in the appeal brought by the tribunal, Justice Bereaux ruled that his colleague was right to rule that the High Court could review its decision.

“The Special Tribunal is not a superior court of record, neither is it a court of unlimited jurisdiction,” Bereaux said.

However, Justice Bereaux noted that both Justice Rampersad and the tribunal misconstrued the provisions of the Supplemental Police Act and the EPA’s Rules when they decided that it (the tribunal) did not have the jurisdiction to hear the challenge.

He ruled that the central committee of the EPA had the power to pursue disputes for members even when a branch board has not been elected to represent their interests.

“Legal questions as to the capacity of the relevant association to make representations before it are not within the Tribunal’s inferior jurisdiction,” Bereaux said.

“At best such a question, had it been relevant, was a matter for the relevant branch board or a member of the branch to pursue before the High Court,” he added.

Justice Bereaux said that while estate constables are not considered workers like police and fire officers and teachers, the tribunal is mandated to deal with their employment-related issues raised by the representative associations.

“The Special Tribunal as the name suggests is specifically created to deal with disputes in respect of these employees as non-workers,” Justice Bereaux said.

He also noted the absence of a negotiated agreement between the bank and the EPA over the separation of estate constables was irrelevant.

“Its members are affected by a decision of the bank and the respondent as the representation association is entitled to pursue it as a dispute before the tribunal,” Justice Bereaux said.

As part of their decision, Justice Bereaux and his colleagues remitted the case to the tribunal for it to hear the dispute.

In a statement published on the EPA’s Facebook page, EPA President Deryck Richardson described the judgement as landmark as it allows his organisation to represent members, who do not have a branch board in their companies.

“This is a historic judgement and its ramifications for the availability of justice by officers has been put to rest and as such the officers of TBC who were made redundant can now have their matter heard before the Special Tribunal for adjudication,” Richardson said.

The EPA was represented by Anthony Bullock and Clay Hackett, while Seenath Jairam, SC, and Vincent Jardine represented the tribunal.