Judge upholds acting Prisons Commissioner’s promotion challenge

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Acting Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar –

Acting Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar has scored another legal victory against the Public Service Commission (PSC) over what he said was an “arbitrarily imposed” selection process for filling vacancies in the prison service.

On May 6, Justice Nadia Kangaloo upheld Ramoutar’s judicial review claim, which challenged a decision by the PSC to “skip ranks” by seeking to fill the position of deputy commissioner without first addressing vacancies at the lower ranks of senior superintendent and assistant commissioner.

In August 2022 and February 2023, Ramoutar obtained two injunctions over suitability interviews for promotion to the rank of senior superintendent of prisons.

Ramoutar, who has been acting in a position four times higher than his substantive rank of superintendent for more than two years, claimed the PSC breached an established prison service promotion policy and practice and its regulations.

In March 2023, he received a late-night injunction to stop the PSC from filling the position of deputy commissioner without first filling the vacancies in the junior ranks.

Also in 2023, Ramoutar won his lawsuit against the PSC over its move to have a competency-based interview for promotions. This lawsuit was filed before he was appointed acting commissioner in early 2022. In that lawsuit, the court declared the PSC’s decision to introduce the competency interview was irrational and unreasonable and held that the PSC could not interview Ramoutar on his knowledge of previous years.

In his latest lawsuit before Kangaloo, Ramoutar alleged that the decision by the PSC to hold a new and “arbitrarily imposed” selection process and interviews amounted to the skipping of ranks. This came after he was invited by the PSC to participate in a promotion exercise for the rank of deputy commissioner.

However, his attorneys Martin George and Sarah Lawrence argued that he was ranked first on the merit/seniority list, which the PSC chose to ignore, and, instead, sought to hold a new process and interview.

As the most senior prison officer, Ramoutar’s attorneys argued the new interview process was “artificially contrived” and designed to undermine his position on the merit list.

They further contended that the PSC was in breach of an established practice and policy in the prison service of not skipping ranks by not filling the next-level vacant posts.

George argued that if the positions were filed in their lawful order, then Ramoutar would still retain his number-one position on the merit list but if allowed, the new process the PSC intends to adopt will see him losing that position.

In an oral decision, Kangaloo held that the PSC’s decision to ignore and override its previous promotion assessment was arbitrary, irrational and unreasonable.

Senior Counsel Ian Benjamin represented the PSC.