Lawyer and government senator Jomo Thomas, who is representing the Teachers’ Union in two matters against the government, says the union is “correctly expressing concern” about the pace with which cases it has brought against the government is moving through the court system.
Thomas, who became a senator and candidate for the ruling Unity Labour Party after taking the cases, noted to I-Witness News on Wednesday that the matters include judicial review, which he says usually takes precedence in the courts.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Teachers’ Union expressed “dismay over the inordinate delay” of the cases, which it said were critical.
The matters involve the transfer of career educator Otto Sam “from the teaching profession to a job outside the sphere of his competencies,” union spokesperson Wendy Bynoe said.
In 2010, Sam, an outspoken critic of the Unity Labour Party government, was transferred from his post as headmaster of the South Rivers Methodist School to the National Emergency Management Organisation.
He was later dismissed from the public service.
Bynoe also voiced her union’s concern that the case regarding the refusal of the government to rehire
Elvis Daniel, Addison Thomas, and Kenroy Johnson, who resigned from the Public Service in 2010 to contesting the general elections on behalf of the opposition New Democratic Party.
The three teachers and the union have argued that the collective bargaining agreement the union signed with the government should have allowed the teacher to return to the classroom.
But the government has said that the specific clause that the union cites was only “aspirational”, as it is unconstitutional.
But Thomas told I-Witness News on Wednesday that the union’s concerns about the movement of the cases through the court system were reasonable.
He said that the case of the transfer of Sam, “for all intents and purposes is finished”.
In February 2014, Justice Gertel Thom ruled in favour of Sam, saying the transfer was arbitrary and illegal.
The government appealed that decision and at the last sitting of the Court of Appeal in July, Thomas argued the case for Sam, and the judges reserved judgement and will do a written decision, Thomas told I-Witness News.
“And I believe more than likely that decision will be rendered when they come back here in November,” he said.
Sam had taken the matter of his dismissal to the Public Service tribunal, which ruled that he was properly dismissed — a decision upheld by the appellate board in the Public Service.
He applied for judicial review of the appellate board’s decision.
“And that case is awaiting direction as to how we proceed,” Thomas told I-Witness News.
“Normally, judicial review matters take precedence, so I will say that the Teachers’ Union is correctly expressing concern because when a matter is listed for judicial review, the understanding in the court system is that that should be given priority.
“It must have been more than a year now since we have applied for judicial review of the appellate board’s decision. The matter came back on but there was some technical thing about whether they were properly served because what had happened is at the Service Commission, there was a YES (Youth Empowerment Service) worker who had taken service but the time the case came up, the YES worker was gone. And the people by the office said there was no person by that name so we had to re-serve. The court gave us permission to re-serve the documents, even though it was clearly established that there was a YES worker there and so on and so forth,” Thomas told I-Witness News.
“So the matter is waiting further direction from the court. It has not been listed and I guess that is what the frustration that the Teachers’ Union expressed.”
Thomas also told I-Witness News that the matter involving the three NDP teachers is also up for judicial review.
“There were initial arguments which were made well over a year now and for whatever reason, the case has not come back on the calendar,” he said.
In December 2013, the court dismissed the application by the Government to strike out the case and awarded cost of $2,500 against the Government.
A date for the preliminary hearing in the substantive matter is yet to be announced.
In that matter, Thomas and Shirlan Barnwell, and Grenadian attorney, President of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Bar Association, Ruggles Ferguson represent the Teachers’ Union.
“When the matter did come up, the state had made an application to strike the case and the court ruled against striking the case, so the case must come up for full hearing but it had not been listed. It’s really taken too long,” Thomas said.
He, however, noted that there was a changing of the guard, when Justice Thom left, but said that two other judges have since taken the bench, one of whose term is ending.
“So let’s see what happens in the new term. The new term opens in September so we will see what will happen,” Thomas told I-Witness News.
Thomas became a ULP senator in August 2013 and was last year selected as the party’s candidate for South Leeward in general election expected this year.
He, however, told I-Witness News that he still believes in the “righteousness” of the cases in spite of his status within the ULP.
“The fact of the matter is that I had these cases, I still believe in the righteousness of these case and I argued forcefully in the Court of Appeal that Otto Sam was improperly transferred,” Thomas told I-Witness News.
“My political allegiance doesn’t have anything to do with my understanding of the law. On this point, I am guided by Barbadian Queen’s Counsel Henry Forde who had said that when he was a member of the government in Barbados, his firm had taken the most cases against the state, because there is a clear dichotomy, there is a clear division between his role as a government official and his firm’s commitment to uphold the rule of law,” Thomas said.