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THE COMMANDING officer of the TT Coast Guard, the Defence Force Commissions Board and the State are facing allegations of contempt of court after 16 coast guardsmen were promoted despite there being a court order staying promotions in the agency.
The contempt of court application was filed by Lieutenant (Naval) Dane Khan who is challenging the failure to promote him to the rank of Lieutenant Commander of the TTCG.
Khan filed a judicial review application on May 19, when he found out he was not being recommended for promotion.
He said he was told by the commanding officer that this was because of “disputed appraisals” and “inconsistencies” which were allegedly contradictory in nature. Instead, he said he was told his 2022 appraisals will be used to determine his promotion.
However, his challenge said several officers junior to him were recommended for promotion.
Khan said he has been serving as a lieutenant for 11 years and based on the defence force regulations, he should have already been promoted since 2020.
His challenge said two inaccurate negative appraisal reports were submitted to the board without him getting an opportunity to address them.
On June 27, Justice Joan Charles ordered a stay on the promotion of officers until Khan’s judicial review claim was determined or until the court made a further order.
According to the contempt application, when Khan learned of the promotion of officers in the TTCG on July 5, his attorneys contacted the State calling for a retraction of the Defence Force orders because of the stay but was told that the promotions would have already been granted by the President since May 10.
A pre-action protocol letter was sent to the State, since according to Khan the grant by the President, was only one of the steps in the promotion process, and there was still time to retract the publication to give effect to the promotions.
This was not done and those officers were promoted on July 10, “in complete defiance of the court’s order,” Khan’s contempt application said.
At a hearing of the contempt application on Wednesday, Khan’s attorney Arden Williams admitted that because the promotions list had been published, those who were elevated cannot now be demoted.
He argued that defiance and opposition to decisions of the court crippled the legal system and created unnecessary complications and frustrations. He used the analogy of the President signing a warrant of execution in a death penalty case even though it was stayed by the Privy Council.
“The current situation is, therefore, no different.” Williams said there was no emergency that required the commanding officer or the board to “defy” the court’s order of the stay, also pointing out that they were given an opportunity to “purge their contempt” but refused.
At the hearing, Charles gave directions for the commanding officer, the board and the State to respond.
However, she warned them that despite their military status, they were not above the law and advised them of the seriousness of the matter and the consequences they are likely to face if the contempt was proven.
The sanction for criminal contempt is committal.
Charles has adjourned the matter to November 20. She also ordered that a vacant spot be kept for Khan pending the court’s determination of his legal challenges.
Also representing Khan are attorneys Mariah Ramrattan and Anthony Moore.