Activist hits CoP’s extra year in office – Ravi goes after Erla’s extension

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher. FILE PHOTO –

FRESH from his Privy Council victory against government on the issue of extension of the life of local government bodies, political activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj is now taking legal aim at the legality of the one-year extension granted to Commissioner of Police (CoP) Erla Harewood-Christopher.

In a pre-action protocol letter, Balgobin Maharaj’s lawyers have given the Prime Minister and the Attorney General until May 31 to respond before filing a claim in the High Court of Justice. The attorneys said they had abridged the usual response time due to the urgency of the issue.

Balgobin Maharaj claims the Commissioner of Police (Extension of Service) Order, 2023, which extended the service of Harewood-Christopher in the office of Commissioner of Police by one year, with effect from May 15, was illegal, unconstitutional and invalid on several grounds.

In the letter, he argued that Harewood-Christopher’s nomination could only be valid until she reached retirement age on May 15. He said the Constitution states that the Police Service Commission shall have the power to appoint people to hold or act in the office of CoP and Deputy CoP.

He said Harewood-Christopher’s tenure was extended through provisions of Section 75 of the Police Service Act, Chapter 15:01 which says the President may, in relation to a police officer in the First Division, where he considers it in the national interest, extend the years of service of the police officer after he has reached the prescribed age of retirement, for a period of one year in the first instance and thereafter, subject to an annual review, for a maximum of two further periods of one-year each.

Balgobin Maharaj said these two sections clash with each other and the Constitution should take priority.

“The commission could have only contemplated and intended to approve the appointment of Harewood-Christopher until she attained the prescribed age of retirement.

Political activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj, seen outside the Parliament Chamber on Wednesday. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB –

“It could not have intended to extend her tenure beyond the age of 60 because at the material time, this was the legal limit of her tenure in the First Division.”

He said the extension of her tenure was, “in substance and reality, a fresh acting appointment without reference to the procedure in section 123 of the Constitution.”

Balgobin Maharaj said under his interpretation, Section 75 should read, “the President may in relation to a police officer in the First Division, other than the Commissioner of Police and the Deputy Commissioner of Police…”

He said the Executive cannot give itself the power to appoint Harewood-Christopher to act after she attains the age of retirement without reference to the PSC and Parliament, “as this would subvert the carefully calibrated procedure prescribed by section 123 which was designed to remove the power to appoint a CoP from the Executive.

“On the facts, the extension of the years of service of Harewood-Christopher under section 75 cannot be conflated or equated with an extension of her appointment as CoP. Her appointment as CoP on February 3, 2023 could only have been valid and lawful until she attained the mandatory retirement age of 60 years. Thereafter, it would have been necessary to trigger the procedure in section 123 to make a fresh appointment to extend her appointment as CoP beyond May 15, 2023.”

He said Section 75 should be illegal and unconstitutional “because it subjugates and leaves the Commissioner at the mercy of the Government and such a subservient relationship would obviously compromise the independence of this important office.

“The CoP would in effect be beholden to the Government which is responsible for renewing her contract every twelve months. The public perception would obviously be that the Commissioner must toe the Government’s political line and “sing for her supper” lest the Government refuse to renew her contract.

In summary, the activist said the decision to extend Harewood-Christopher’s term was illegal and unconstitutional because it was contrary to and/or in conflict with the Police Service Act and the Constitution because it compromises and undermines the independence of the CoP; breaches the principle of separation of powers; it is in complete disregard to the legislative strictures imposed by the Constitution and the Police Service Act; amounts to an abuse of power; and is irrational and so unreasonable that no reasonable decision-maker could have arrived at such a decision.