Justice Betsy Ann Lambert-Peterson. – Photo from US Embassy’s Twitter page –
POLICE officers must be clean-shaven as provided for by the police service regulations.
In a ruling on February 9, a High Court judge held that regulation 143(3)(b) was “saved law” and could not be challenged.
Friday’s ruling of Justice Betsy Ann Lambert-Peterson comes a day after another judge ruled that a regulation which set a minimum height requirement for police recruits was not saved law and was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
On February 8, Justice Robin Mohammed held that regulation 3(1)(f) failed to satisfy the requirements to be saved from constitutional challenge as it was a modification of the existing police service regulations in 1971.
However, Lambert-Peterson held that regulation 143(3)(b) was saved law and was, therefore, not unconstitutional.
Regulation 143(1) and (3) states that an officer shall always appear in public view properly dressed, cleanly and smartly turned out, smart in his movements, and respectful in his bearing and manner and male officers on duty must not have hair on their chin or upper lip.
Lambert-Peterson’s finding was contained in her ruling on a constitutional challenge by police officer Kristian Khan, a Muslim, who said his right to freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance and of his right to equality before the law and protection of the law were infringed by the regulation on beards.
In her ruling, Lambert-Peterson said, “Trinidad and Tobago is a pluralistic society. We have a unique societal context even when compared to other pluralistic societies. Freedom of conscience, religious belief and religious observance is highly valued in Trinidad and Tobago.
“The Constitution, as a living, organic instrument, ought to facilitate the evolving needs of our society.”
She said the regulation mirrored a similar regulation that predated the Republican Constitution, so it was “existing law” protected from challenge.
In his claim, Khan said he was an active member of the Diamond Village Masjid since he was a child, attended denominational schools managed by the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association, adhering to the teachings of Islam with his diet, observance of Islamic occasions, and other activities.
He joined the police service in April 2014 and was a member of the Special Operations Response Team (SORT).
While in SORT, he was allowed to grow his beard. SORT was disbanded in 2022, and he was reassigned to the Central Division.
He still kept his beard shortly trimmed until he was told by a senior officer to shave it or apply for an exemption from shaving.
Khan was told that should he fail to do so, he would face disciplinary action.
Two Muslim scholars gave evidence that shaving the beard is considered to be unlawful and impermissible in Islamic jurisprudence.
Testifying for the State were senior police officers who said they were not told the beard was part of Khan’s religious beliefs nor did the officer apply for an exemption to wear a beard since the clean-shaven face policy was a mandatory requirement.
There are no exemptions for Muslim police officers nor are there any based on an officer’s religion.
In her ruling, Lambert-Peterson held that since the regulation was saved law, there was no need for her to determine the constitutionality of it or consider if Khan’s rights were breached by the policy.
Khan was represented by Anand Ramlogan SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Kent Samlal, Natasha Bisram and Vishaal Siewsarrran. Representing the State were Keisha Prosper, Trisha Ramlogan, Avion Romain, Anala Mohan and Murvani Ojah-Maharaj.