The Court of Appeal has dismissed the government’s appeal of a High Court ruling that the transfer of career educator Otto Sam from the classroom to the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) in 2010 was “irrational and illegal”.
Lawyer Jomo Thomas, whose chambers represented Sam in the matter, confirmed the High Court decision to I-Witness News Tuesday night, hours after it was handed down in Grenada.
“I have not yet read the judgement. What I do know, the court dismissed the appeal of the respondent and ordered EC$2500 in cost,” Thomas said.
High Court judge, Justice Gertel Thom, ruled in February 2014 that the transfer of Sam was irrational and illegal.
Sam, an outspoken public servant, was transferred from his post as headmaster of the South Rivers Methodist School to NEMO after he complained that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves broke Ministry of Education protocol during a visit to the school, by not first reporting to the head teacher.
Gonsalves is constituency representative for North Central Windward, where the school is located.
Thomas told I-Witness News that he was always confident that the Court of Appeal would have upheld the decision of the lower court.
“I argued the case for Mr. Sam, I always believed in the righteousness of his case and I argued it and I argued it forcefully…” said Thomas, who became a senator in the Gonsalves government after accepting Sam’s case.
“I was always convinced that we had a better case and a better argument and the law was with us. So I wasn’t in any way surprised that the court ruled in our favour,” he said.
Sam was suspended from the public service in August 2012, in the wake of a letter he wrote, which was published in two local newspapers, that was highly critical of the operations of NEMO.
He was fired from the Public Service in May 2013, after the finding of a tribunal, and Thomas and Shirlan Barnwell is representing him in seeking judicial review of the appellate tribunal’s decision to uphold the decision of the tribunal.
Asked about the implications of the Court of Appeal ruling on further actions that Sam may take against the government, Thomas noted the judicial review matter that is still before the court.
“I think it is a matter that can be decided upon the facts, because, as you may know, judicial review matters, the court tends to have disdain for legal arguments and cross-examination of witnesses and the rule, the law on the matter is that there is only need for cross-examination and for counsels making all kinds of argument, where, according to law, it’s a hard issue of fact.
“It is our respectful submission in our papers before the court that there is no hard issue. We have simply argued that the tribunal that was established and the appellate tribunal had acted improperly and illegal in dismissing Mr. Sam, and, as a consequence, we are hoping that the court will make a decision on the papers.
“It is our estimation that that matter, once it comes to court, the court will make a decision on it. We are also confident that it will also rule in the favour of Mr. Sam.”
Thomas said while judicial review matters are not popular in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, he thinks the ruling will have implications for how governments act in the future.
“… what you have is that people will tell you that ‘We have been doing this for 35 years. I have been working here for 35 years now and it has been happening even before I got here.’
“But there is nothing to say that even though it has been happening for that long that it was proper, it was logical and, more importantly, that the action which was carried out was legal.
“So, I am hoping that with these decisions, administrative bodies and other administrative institutions would be much more circumspect in the actions that they take.
“So, hopefully, that may have a change in the guard and governmental officials and administrative bodies will be much more circumspect in how they respond to these matters,” he said.