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Prime Minister Ralph in a Jan. 12, 2023 photo.
Prime Minister Ralph in a Jan. 12, 2023 photo.
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Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says retired jurists are among the people who he said are questioning the implication of the decision of the court in the vaccine mandate case.

Last Monday, Justice Esco Henry ruled that the government’s actions in implementing the mandate constitute a breach of natural justice, contravene the Constitution, were unlawful, procedurally-improper and void.

The court held that the workers who were fired for not taking a COVID-19 jab by December 2021 never ceased to be employed by the government and are entitled to their salaries and benefits as well as punitive damages.  

Speaking on radio, Gonsalves reiterated that his government would appeal the court ruling and would also ask the court to stay the execution of the judgement.

“Now we are satisfied that what we did as the government was right was proper, was legal, was constitutional,” said Gonsalves, who is a lawyer and minister of legal affairs.

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“And we consider that the judgment of the learned trial judge is wrong,” he said, adding that his government has been properly advised on this by its lead lawyer on the matter, Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan as well as “former judges, retired judges, including of the Court of Appeal, advised by academicians, professors at the University of the West Indies.

 “So, the first thing is that a judgment by a single judge is not — we’re not just going to accept that,” Gonsalves said, adding that the matter has to be “properly ventilated, before the Court of Appeal or even further, if necessary”.

But Jomo Thomas, the lead lawyer for the workers in the case noted that a single judge or magistrate decides all cases in the nation’s lower courts.

“And you notice how they’re talking about this, almost derisively, about this one judge? Well, who makes decisions in 99% in 100% of the cases in St. Vincent? Not one judge? Not one magistrate? and those decisions stand as law. So, what is this kind of snide remark about decision was made by one judge?  It is a judge that makes the decision,” Thomas said in recent comments on radio.

Meanwhile, Gonsalves said that the government’s decision to appeal should not come as news.

“… I had said that very early, that I think that whoever didn’t prevail with the judge of first instance, the High Court, that they would appeal. And that’s what is being done in this case.”

The prime minister said the case is a matter of critical public importance.

“It is a matter not only for St. Vincent and Grenadines from but across the region,” he said, adding that “senior lawyers”, including “retired jurists”, have been calling him and “posing questions beyond the actual case itself, but connected to the case.

“That is to say, is this a matter not better left to the Parliament and the authorities, the executive authorities in respect of a pandemic, because the law is there which provides for that?” Gonsalves said.

“… if we can’t act, no government can act in a measured way in which we acted, what you’re going to do, allow a pandemic to rip and kill people tither and thither, including children in schools or expose them to the danger of long COVID?” Gonsalves said.

“We are satisfied that we acted properly — that is the civic government — legally, scientifically and in the interest of the public. And we have gone through this over and over again. And that everybody accepts that what we did, the manner in which we handled COVID, we saved lives and livelihoods.”

But Opposition Leader Godwin Friday, who is also a lawyer, welcomed the court decision, saying that the court is not saying that the government cannot take steps to respond to public health emergency, such as a pandemic.

“The measures that you take in response to a pandemic is to save lives and to protect people, and to uphold the dignity of the individual,” Friday said.

“You can’t do it by infringing on people’s rights. And by basically treating people who you say that you so much love and you want to protect, treating them as though they are the problem,” the opposition leader stated.

Gonsalves further said that there has been “a big debate as to whether judges go out of their way to usurp parliaments — the parliaments’ powers or the role of the executive to make proper rules and regulations under laws made in Parliament, which do not offend the Constitution”.

The prime minister said his government does not think that what it did offends the Constitution.

“Obviously, the public servants and teachers and others who made the application and their lawyers think otherwise. That’s okay. There’s a process. We’ll have it resolved through the process and we continue with all of our work as per usual while this matter is being resolved,” he said.

However, in her ruling, the judge said that the Public Service Commission, Commissioner of Police and Police Service Commission abdicated their jurisdiction and responsibility in favour of the minister. 

“This application resulted in this case in what the framers of the Constitution was seeking to avoid, by way of insulating public officers and police officers from the interference in their employment relationship with the Crown by political or other actors,” the judge pointed out.

Gonsalves said it would be reasonable to expect a stay of execution “because otherwise it would make a practical mockery of an appeal.

“But that’s a matter for the lawyers and the court to which the government lawyers would be going to seek a stay.”

6 replies on “PM says ‘retired jurists’ among people questioning implications of vaccine mandate ruling  ”

  1. The man looking very tired, why don’t he go home and rest up, he need to remember svg was there before him, and will still be there after him, swallow your pride man, and go home and let someone’s else bear the burden

  2. Donald De Riggs says:

    ‘A drowning man will clutch at a straw’, is playing itself out right now. All arguments tendered by the govt are weak, and to classify those who were vaccinated in a recent statement as “heroes’ is giving sensible citizens a ‘basket to carry water’. The MAJORITY of persons who took the jab were forced to do so against their will, but only took it as a sacrifice for their family, and in essence were guinea pigs in the global experiment gone bad. Those who took the vaccine still got sick, and passed it on to others, before some of them died. There can be NO justification for passing legislation to force anyone to be part of an experimental treatment that was only granted EUA….. emergency use authorisation……the WHO clearly states that, so they even contravened WHO guidelines. Like a bully who owns the bat and ball, when he gets a ‘one ball’ that licks out his middle stump, he takes bat and ball and walks away, hoping the game will end. Not this time, we also have more bats and more BALLS, so the game will continue without him.

    O foolish Vincentians, who bewitched you to the point where GOOD is seen and treated as bad! Open your eyes. Jimmy Cliff reminds us: You can’t be wrong and yet right !

    Small Axe

  3. Take warning says:

    Let’s sing. Yo hay lie that’s lie teacher percy say when you tell a lie yo going to hell as soon as you die. ‘ I does tell lies sometimes.’

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