March 13, 2023 | By Colin O. Jarrett |
The Ralph Gonsalves Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, SVG received a slap in the face as a result of the Covid-19 mandate lawsuit.
SVG Attorney Jomo Thomas described the ruling as “the legal equivalent of a slam dunk”. High Court Judge, Justice Esco Henry, ruled against Government on all but one of the major points of the lawsuit that was brought by the public sector unions over the Covid-19 vaccine mandate under which hundreds of public sector workers were deemed to have abandoned or resigned their jobs in December 2021, for failing to take the jab.
The unions have maintained that they did not abandon or resign their jobs, as the government claimed and that they were dismissed.
In her ruling, Justice Henry said the special measures rules made under the SR&O – the vaccine mandate law, is unlawful, unconstitutional and void.
Attorney Cerepha Harper-Joseph, who represented the government at the trial, has already indicated that an appeal will be filed and that she would apply for a stay of the execution of the judgment. Justice Henry said this was expected, regardless of how her judgment had gone, adding “it’s a very important decision impacting on very significant public interests matters”.
The judge said both sides “have a duty to pursue justice on behalf of the respective parties to the extent they consider necessary”. She said that none of the workers cease to be entitled to hold the respective offices of public officers and police officers within the relevant ministries, departments or the Royal St Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, to which they were appointed respectively, by the Public Service Commission, the Police Service Commission and the Commissioner of Police and held at the relevant time.
She said that the dismissed workers are entitled to the full pay and all and payable to them in their respective capacities as public officers or police officers, inclusive of any accrued pension and gratuity benefits or rights from the respective dates on which they were deemed to have resigned.
“The Crown is liable to each claimant for damages for the reference constitutional breaches inclusive of an additional award to reflect the seriousness of the breaches and to deter any recurrence with interest at the statutory rate of 6% per annum,” Justice Henry ruled, issuing also an order to a quash the Minister of Health’s decision to make the rule that brought the mandate into effect.
The Court further quashed the PSC’s decision to deem the public officers to have resigned their offices by operation of the vaccine mandate law. Justice Henry further made a similar order regarding the Commissioner of Police’s decision to deem police officers to have resigned their jobs under the mandate.
She ordered that the claimants file and serve the application for assessment of damages within three months on or before June 17, 2023.
The Court also directed the Police Service Commission, the Police Service Commission, Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General to make the necessary arrangement for the respective claimants to receive all payments and benefits to which they are or become entitled.
The claimants are required to file the application for assessment of cost within 45 days on or before April 20, 2023.
Justice Henry ruled that the Minister of Health’s decision to deem the public officers to have resigned their offices without affording them an opportunity to be heart, constitutes a breach of natural justice, contravenes the Constitution, is unlawful, procedurally-improper and void.
The Judge further held that the Public Service Commission’s decision to deem the public officer to have resigned their offices and cease to be public officers by operation of law under regulation the SR&O, is a lawful and disproportionate.
She said the Commissioner of Police’s decision to deem police officers below the rank of sergeant to have resigned their offices under the SR&O is unconstitutional and ultra vires.
The Judge held that the Police Service Commissioner’s decision to deem police officers to have resigned their jobs under the mandate without affording them an opportunity to be heard, constitutes a breach of natural justice, contravened the Constitution is unlawful, procedurally improper and void.
One year ago, the High Court denied permission for judicial review of the Covid-19 vaccine mandate in SVG but said it would consider the case of workers when were fired for not being vaccinated.
Justice Henry had said then that the court should hear the case by former government workers who were dismissed for abandoning their posts, even though the law under which they were fired deemed them as absent if they attended work while being unvaccinated against Covid-19.