The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Wednesday said former Barbadian public servant, James Ifill had received a “full, natural justice hearing” as it released the reasons for its ruling in dismissing his appeal after he was compelled to resign on several charges of misconduct.
The CCJ heard that 10 disciplinary charges had been laid against Ifill in 2002. He had been employed as a Transport Inspector in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport since 1984. A senior public servant, Carlos Belgrave, was appointed to investigate the charges.
In a report subsequently tendered to the Public Service Commission (PSC), Ifill was found guilty of seven of the 10 disciplinary charges, the majority of which concerned prolonged and undocumented absences from work.
The PSC used the report to advise the Governor-General that Ifill should be required to compulsorily resign from the public service.
The recommendation was accepted and in a letter dated July 31, 2003, Ifill was also informed that he had a right to have his case referred to the local Privy Council within 21 days if he so desired.
Despite receiving a second letter informing him of his right to go before the London-based Privy Council, Ifill took no such action.
Consequently, he was informed on 20 October 2003 that the Governor-General had acted on the Commission’s advice and his compulsory resignation would take effect on 1st November 2003.
Almost five years later, Ifill initiated court proceedings challenging his removal from office.
Both the High Court and Court of Appeal dismissed his case, having found that the investigation was appropriately and fairly conducted.
Ifill appealed to the CCJ, the island’s highest court, arguing that his removal from office contravened section 98 of the Constitution and that the investigation was conducted in a manner that was unfair to him.
But in addressing the conduct of the investigation, the CCJ referred to the report by Belgrave which detailed the statements and arguments of Ifill and his legal representative. The report also detailed the problematic relationship between Ifill and his immediate superior.
Based on these details, the CCJ rule that it was satisfied that Ifill was given every opportunity to respond to the charges, as confirmed by his successful defence of three of the 10 charges laid against him.
The Court found that Ifill had received a “full, natural justice hearing”.
In response to Ifill’s contention that he was entitled to an oral enquiry by a three-member tribunal, the CCJ observed that since the investigation by Belgrave was itself an oral enquiry there was no practical reason for the Commission to have called for a second oral enquiry.
Ifill had also argued that the language used in the letter informing him of the Governor General’s acceptance of the advice of the Commission led him to mistakenly assume that a judgment had already been made against him and, hence, that referring his case to the Privy Council would have been pointless.
While the Court acknowledged that the language used in the correspondence to Ifill could have been clearer, it pointed out the fact that former public servant had the benefit of legal counsel at the time who would have experienced no confusion.
The Court also rejected Ifill’s claim that compulsory resignation was an inappropriate sanction in his case, since it was expressly provided for in the Regulations.
The CCJ pointed out that the sanction of compulsory resignation allowed Ifill to still collect his pension, when he becomes eligible to do so, which he would have otherwise lost had he been simply dismissed from office.
The CCJ dismissed the appeal and made no order as to costs.