​Judge rules Cabinet’s one-year extension of CoP lawful

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher – File photo

A High Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit which challenged Cabinet’s decision to extend the term of Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher by one year.

On January 16, Justice Ricky Rahim dismissed the case filed by political activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj who challenged Harewood-Christopher’s extension.

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

Balgobin contended that the appointment process by the independent body, the Police Service Commission (PSC), and the Parliament was not in keeping with relevant provisions of the Constitution under section 123.

He claimed that the Cabinet sidestepped that process (thereby infringing the doctrine of the separation of powers) and extended the term after her date of retirement.

Harewood-Christopher turned 60 on May 15, 2023, and the extension was from that same date to May 14, this year.

Three months earlier, on February 3, 2023, Harewood-Christopher was appointed this country’s first female top cop.

On May 9, 2023, the National Security minister announced that the Cabinet agreed and confirmed the extension of her contract.

The court ruled that an act of Parliament conferred the power to extend the CoP’s term in a package of legislation comprising the 2006 Constitution Amendment, including the amendment to the Police Service Act.

The court added that Parliament’s decision to leave the prescription of the term of office and any extensions of the CoP’s office to the executive was a deliberate constitutional choice.

The court also found that the power to extend the CoP’s service does not infringe on the constitutional function of the PSC to appoint, remove and discipline the CoP.

Additionally, the court found that the extension relates to an incumbent who was already approved by the House of Representatives and appointed by the PSC in full compliance with section 123 of the Constitution.

The judge ruled that the constitutional arrangements put in place for the insulation of the CoP from political influence or interference remain fully intact.