The challenge to ‘fire at will’ in police cases

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Industrial relations laws and practices in TT differ in several key aspects from those in the United States. For one thing, an employer in the US has the legal and unquestioned authority to “fire at will” which means unless they have specifically contracted otherwise, or the law says otherwise, they have the authority to terminate the employment of an employee without paying severance pay or assigning cause. It is currently happening to thousands of Trinis working in that country as a result of the pandemic.

In TT any employer attempting to do so has several hurdles to cross. Even in pandemic times. One of those is the Industrial Relations Act which was passed in 1972 and has given the overarching authority to the Industrial Court to decide on the fairness of each such act. And in TT terminations have generations of tests established by the Court to stand up to.

Therefore, when the Minnesota police were captured on video using force, with one officer pinning George Floyd by the neck using his knee, resulting in his death, their chief of police was able to immediately “fire at will” the officers involved. Their termination was quite separate from the offence of murder they were subsequently charged with. The US is a different country from TT, with a different culture, different customs, different laws.

However, so powerful is the media of the US that when three men were seen on video in TT apparently being shot by our police officers, the cry immediately went up to our Commissioner of Police to fire them, sling them in prison, and throw away the key. And fierce questioning has followed each day that they remain in office, on full pay. Seven were suspended on full pay and 11 others placed on what is euphemistically termed “desk duty” which basically means they come to work and perhaps do a little filing, also while receiving full pay. This upsets some people who want to be Americans so that they can be fired at will.

It is understandable that some of our less fortunate and currently unemployed citizens can be a little resentful about this after it was revealed that there are police officers still on suspension for lesser offences for over ten years also on full pay. And the question continues to be asked, and will continue to be asked, “Why?”

Because this was seen to be an injustice, back in 2006, there was an amendment made to our constitution which read as follows: “Subject to Section 123(1) the Commissioner of Police shall have the complete power to manage the Police Service and is required to ensure that the Human, Financial, and Material resources available to the Service are used in an efficient and effective manner.”

“The Commissioner of Police shall have the power to: remove from office and exercise disciplinary control over police officers (other than the Commissioner of Police or the Deputy Commissioner of Police).

So why, people are asking, has Mr Griffith not fired officers involved in the deaths of more than 40 people in the country? Or exacted discipline on those still outstanding cases that were put on suspension before he became commissioner?

As most people know, there is a hierarchy of laws in this country. There is the law of contract which covers the contract of employment “expressed or implied, oral or in writing, then above that there is the enforceability of a signed and registered collective agreement. Above that are the laws passed and proclaimed by Parliament and their regulations, and above all is the Constitution. In parts 4 and 5 is the stipulation that the laws of natural justice must be observed before someone can be deprived of their freedom or their property, Section 5(2)(e). So despite the 2006 amendment, the jurisdiction of the CoP to deprive someone of his property rights in his job, as strange as that may sound, can still be challenged and be tested in a court of law.

So if one has a job, as police officers do, their contracts cannot be terminated and they cannot be convicted and jailed for murder without going through the legal processes that govern them. In one case, earlier this year an officer was charged with the same crime. As was his right, as is the right of every citizen, including those out on bail having been charged with multiple crimes, they are all protected by the Constitution and the rules of fundamental, or natural justice, the procedures of the law must be followed. The accused officer took his case to court and the judge, Ricky Rahim, while hearing the case, imposed an interim injunction which meant action on such cases was suspended pending the hearing of the case and the judge’s decision. As the outcome of that case will provide a precedent for other similar cases, despite his powers granted to him under the 2006 amendment to the Constitution, the CoP has little choice. He swore to uphold the law when he took on the job, and as complex and convoluted and to the layman’s eye sometimes ridiculous, as the law is, he has to uphold it.

But what about the 300 other cops on suspension costing the country $50 million a year?

The post The challenge to ‘fire at will’ in police cases appeared first on Trinidad and Tobago Newsday.

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