Paula Drakes to remain commissioner of state lands pending PSC appeal

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Paula Drakes – ROGER JACOB

COMMISSIONER of State Lands Paula Drakes will continue in her position with her full pay while the Public Service Commission (PSC) appeals a ruling of the High Court.

In May, Justice Carol Gobin held that the commission was wrong to interdict Drakes from duty pending disciplinary action and withhold half her salary.

The judge also declared that the PSC had no jurisdiction to invoke disciplinary action against Drake, who was appointed commissioner on October 10, 2016.

It was the judge’s finding that the commissioner did not fall in the schedule of public officers in the civil service and there could be no implied terms of Drakes’ contract to incorporate the provisions of the Civil Service Act.

Drakes was suspended for misconduct in May 2018.

Six initial charges were subsequently withdrawn, but a new set of charges, emanating from the same issue, was brought against her and a second suspension notice was served in July 2018.

Contending that the decision to withdraw the initial charges without reason, and then re-lay identical charges was irrational, unfair, unreasonable, unjustified, unconscionable and a breach of natural justice, Drakes, through her attorney Keith Scotland, filed for judicial review.

She was successful at the High Court and the judge ordered the six disciplinary charges against Drakes withdrawn and that she be reinstated in her substantive post forthwith.

The PSC appealed and also asked for a stay of the judge’s orders.

On Thursday, Justice of Appeal Vasheist Kokaram approved a partial stay of some of the judge’s orders but left those relating to her salary, the lifting of her suspension and her reinstatement.

Those orders that were stayed involved the setting up of the disciplinary tribunal as well as the finding that she was not a public officer under the act and not subject to the code of conduct it established.

“Provided the appeal is not frivolous and is arguable, it is practical to hold the disciplinary process at bay frozen in time on September 18, 2019, when the charges were laid and the decision taken to move to convene a disciplinary tribunal.

“Until a final determination is made, there could be no step taken to prosecute those charges. There is no demonstrable prejudice or risk to Ms Drakes if those charges are not expunged at this time.

“Conversely there is no prejudice nor risk of injustice demonstrated to the commission for Ms Drakes to continue performing her duties until the appeal is resolved.”

“The upshot of this decision is that the orders that the period of suspension be lifted and that she be entitled to her full salary remain in effect.”

Kokaram said it was for the commission to demonstrate what public interest factors dictate or weighed in favour of Drakes’ suspension or interdiction.

“They have not done so on this application. Simply saying that the commission must have had serious reservations and these are serious charges is not enough to deprive a litigant of the fruits of her litigation.”

He said even if the charges remained pending, at this time, the commission “can take it nowhere” while the appeal is pending.

“It remains in cold storage,” he said, adding that it will be practical for the PSC to continue the process if successful at appeal without having to lay fresh charges.

Drakes was also represented by Jacqueline Chang while the PSC was represented by Russell Martineau, SC, Coreen Findley and Savitri Maharaj.