Ex-recruit loses lawsuit against Defence Force dismissal

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Betsy Ann Lambert-Peterson. FILE PHOTO – File Photo

AN ex-Defence Force recruit has lost his lawsuit against the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) over a decision to block him from staying in the regiment because he previously failed a polygraph for the police service (TTPS) twice.

On February 20, Justice Betsy Ann Lambert-Peterson delivered an oral decision, dismissing Vernon Parris’s claim in which he was seeking declarations that he was not treated fairly when he was removed from the intake of recruit selectees without being allowed to be heard and that his removal was unlawful.

Parris applied to become a recruit in 2022. He completed the evaluation process, was selected to undergo basic training and was told he was assigned to the regiment.

In January 2023, when he went to the heliport in Chaguaramas to begin his training, he was told his officer letter was being rescinded because he failed a polygraph when he applied to the police service twice. In his lawsuit, Parris maintained this polygraph was not a test requested by the TTDF. It also said the letter Parris received from the TTDF suggested that the police service was a partner agency in the recruitment process and the failed polygraph was an adverse vetting result. It also said other recruits also failed a police polygraph who were recruited into the intake of TTDF selectees.

“The applicant, having received an offer and accepted it, is entitled to be treated equally by the public authority as others who were similarly circumstanced. He was not.

“The principles of natural justice also suggest that he should have been allowed to be heard on the purported ‘adverse vetting results.’

“The decision to remove the applicant from the list of selectees, having first offered him the position in the regiment which he accepted, expensed himself by the payment for all requisite medical evaluations as well as the list of supplies he was required to obtain to commence training, was unreasonable, unfair, irrational, unlawful and against the principles of natural justice.”

In defence of Parris’s claim, Lt Eden Pope, who told Parris of the decision to rescind his acceptance, had also advised him he did not pass the pre-employment checks or the TTDF’s vetting stage.

She said after he was recruited she was told by the Defence Force Intelligence Unit (DFIU) that he had failed pre-employment checks because he failed two separate TTPS polygraphs.

She said the polygraph along with other assessments were inputs of the TTDF pre-employment checks.

Pope also said when Parris received his acceptance letter he signed an agreement that he was aware that vetting was an ongoing process and that if the TTDF received any adverse report during the recruitment process or if enlisted he would be eliminated or discharged and would not hold the TTDF liable for any injuries or financial expenses he incurred.

She said he was also made aware that the acceptance letter was conditional.

In June 2021, a Carenage man lost his lawsuit over a decision to block him from joining the TTDF as a recruit for also failing a police polygraph.

Justice Frank Seepepersad dismissed Christopher Stanislaus’s case despite finding that the TTDF policy of considering whether its prospective recruits previously failed in their attempt to join the TTPS was unwritten.

In Stanislaus’s case, Seepersad said it was because he failed to disclose that he participated in the TTPS recruitment when he and his fellow recruits were questioned in September 2020 that his claim was rejected.

Lambert-Peterson’s ruling was in line with Seepersad. However, Parris’s lawyers intend to appeal the decision since their client had disclosed that he failed the policy polygraphs.

On Tuesday, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds commented on the court’s ruling in a Facebook post.