31st Jan 2022

Thomas Roe QC (Instructed by Charles Russell Speechlys LLP (London)) for the Respondent

Robert Strang (Instructed by BDB Pitmans LLP (London))


LORD SALES:

This case is primarily concerned with the obligation of the Public Service Commission (“the Commission”) to act fairly when deciding to suspend a prison officer from duty, on full pay, while a disciplinary investigation proceeds against him. It also raises an issue regarding the responsibility of the Commission for misfiling a letter of representations sent by the appellant, causing it to omit to consider those representations when it took its decision to suspend him.

The Commission is a body established under section 120(1) of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. It has jurisdiction in relation to matters of discipline in relation to all public officers, including prison officers. The Public Service Commission Regulations (“the Regulations”) govern the exercise of the Commission’s functions in relation to discipline, among other things.

The Regulations

Chapter VIII of the Regulations is entitled “Discipline” and comprises regs 84-114. It applies in relation to officers employed in the civil service, the prison service and various other public services. Regulation 84 provides that an officer who is alleged to be guilty of misconduct or indiscipline by failing to comply with any regulation, order or directive which applies to him “is liable to disciplinary proceedings in accordance with the procedure prescribed in these Regulations”.

So far as is relevant for the present case, Chapter VIII provides in reg 90 that where a report or allegation of indiscipline or misconduct by an officer is received, the Head of Department (in this case, the Commissioner of Prisons – “the COP”) shall report the matter to the Director of Personnel Administration (“the Director”), an official of the Commission, for the attention of the Commission and shall warn the officer of the report or allegation (sub-reg (1)); an investigating officer shall be appointed by the Director or relevant Head of Department (sub-regs (2) and (2A)); the investigating officer shall give the officer a written notice specifying the time, not exceeding seven days, within which he may, in writing, give an explanation concerning the report or allegation (sub-reg (3)); the investigating officer shall “with all possible dispatch but not later than thirty (30) days from the date of his appointment” forward to the Director for the information of the Commission a report together with all relevant documents and statements (sub-reg (5)); the Commission may grant an extension of the time for the investigating officer to report (sub-reg (5A)); and, after considering his report and any explanation given by the officer, the Commission shall decide whether the officer should be charged with a disciplinary offence (sub-reg (6)).

Regulation 88 provides:

“(1)      When the Commission becomes aware of any act of indiscipline or misconduct and the Commission is of the opinion that the public interest or the repute of the public service requires it, the Commission may direct the officer in writing to cease to report for duty until further notice from the Commission, and an officer so directed shall cease to perform the functions of his office forthwith.

(2)       An officer directed to cease to perform the duties of his office in accordance with subregulation (1) shall continue to draw full salary until notice is given to him by the Commission under regulation 89.”

Although the language used in reg 88(1) might suggest that the power of suspension can only be used where an act of indiscipline or misconduct has occurred, it is evident from the context in which it appears and it is common ground that reg 88 applies in a case where the Commission becomes aware of any allegation of indiscipline or misconduct.

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