AG hails judge’s dismissal of lawsuit against extension of Police Commissioner’s term

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher – File photo/Roger Jacob

The recent judgment by a High Court judge dismissing a lawsuit over Cabinet’s decision to extend the term of Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher by a year, before she turned 60, has been hailed as evidence of the Government’s unwavering commitment to upholding the Constitution.

A media statement from the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs on Wednesday said the judgment was confirmatory of the Government’s continued highest respect for the Constitution, the provisions relating to the separation of powers and constitutional protections for enshrined offices and institutions.

The release came a day after Justice Ricky Rahim dismissed the claim filed by attorneys representing political activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj (claimant). In the lawsuit, Maharaj contended that the extension was not in keeping with relevant provisions of the Constitution under section 123.

Former AG Anand Ramlogan, SC, represented Maharaj together with attorneys Jayanti Lutchmedial, Natasha Bishram, Robert Abdool-Mitchell, Kent Samlal and Vishaal Siewsaran.

The lawsuit listed the Cabinet and Attorney General as the defendants and the Police Service Commission (PSC) as the interested party.

On February 3, 2023, Harewood-Christopher was appointed this country’s first female top cop.

On May 15, 2023, Harewood-Christopher turned 60.

The ministry’s statement recounted that the claimant had challenged Harewood-Christopher’s extension term by the Executive.

The extension was from May 15, 2023, to May 14, this year.

The court dismissed all the claimant’s arguments challenging the basis on which the term of office of Harewood-Christopher has been extended for one year with effect from May 15, 2023.

“This included dismissing the argument that the Cabinet had sidestepped the lawful and constitutional process in extending the term of the Commissioner after her date of retirement and ordering the Claimant to pay all of the costs of the two defendants, the Cabinet, the AG as well as the costs of the PSC as an interested party,” the statement said.

“The court concluded that section 75 of the Police Service Act Chap, 15:01 is not unconstitutional when applied to any officers of the first division (inclusive of the CoP) in that it permits the extension of the years of service of any officer in the first division generally to allow that person to remain a part of the police service beyond her legal retirement age of 60.”

The statement added that the court confirmed that the section does vest power in the Executive to extend the term of office of the CoP of its own volition for a limited period after the CoP reaches retirement age.

“The court made clear that this does not, however, infringe the principle of separation of powers, neither does it amount to a trespass on the power of the PSC to appoint someone to act in the office until the vacancy is filled,” the statement said.

“The court further found that the power vested in the Executive to carry out such action was not a new one, has been in existence since 1977 and, was retained in the 2006 amendments to the Constitution by a unanimous vote in Parliament.”

In a 56-page ruling on Tuesday, the judge also ordered Maharaj to pay the defendants and the interested party’s costs, to be assessed by a registrar.

In response, Maharaj has vowed to appeal the ruling and stood by his claims that her appointment was illegal and unconstitutional.

He also called for her to “do the decent and honourable thing and resign as a new year’s gift to the nation.”