Prisons boss goes to court over placement on order of merit list

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Mr Deopersad Ramoutar, Commissioner of Prisons (Acting) – Photo by Roger Jacob

ACTING Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar has moved a step closer to challenging his position on the order of merit list, which saw him drop from the top spot to second after a new assessment.

Ramoutar, who is expected to go on pre-retirement leave on June 5, was permitted by Justice Devindra Rampersad to pursue his judicial review claim against the Public Service Commission on May 22.

Ramoutar is challenging the commission’s failure to allow him to make representations after he was told in December 2023 that he ranked second on the merit list, using the new promotion process, but had been promoted to the substantive position of senior superintendent of prisons.

His lawsuit challenges the commission’s decision as well as its disclosure of redacted scorecards and scoresheets.

The prison boss is seeking orders to quash the commission’s decisions. The matter will come up for hearing on July 9.

Ramoutar maintains the actions of the commission are illegal. He has successfully challenged it over the filling of senior vacancies in the prison service on two previous occasions.

Most recently, in May, Justice Nadia Kangaloo upheld his lawsuit in which he challenged the commission’s decision 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.

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

In 2021, Ramoutar filed a lawsuit against the commission over its move to introduce a competency-based interview after he topped the list of candidates for promotion to the rank of senior superintendent based on criteria set in 2014 and was awaiting retroactive promotion.

At the time, Ramoutar obtained an injunction blocking the commission from filling permanent vacancies pending the outcome. However, it was still permitted to make acting appointments and appointed Ramoutar to act in the top post after former prisons commissioner Dennis Pulchan retired in early 2022.

In August 2022, Justice Kevin Ramcharan ruled that the commission’s decision to introduce a competency-based interview after Ramoutar placed first on the previous merit list was irrational and unreasonable.

Ramoutar filed another case and obtained an injunction from Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams after the commission sought to introduce a suitability interview after Justice Ramcharan’s decision.

The judge dismissed his lawsuit in November 2023, and it has since been appealed. In November 2023, Ramoutar attended the suitability interview.

He then filed a separate case before Justice Kangaloo after the commission invited him to participate in a promotion exercise for the rank of deputy commissioner in March last year.

Ramoutar is represented by attorneys Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon, Kristy Mohan and Rhea Khan.