Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has defended the failure of his government to obey the court ruling that workers dismissed under the vaccine mandate in December 2021 never ceased to be employed by the government.
The government has not allowed the workers to return to work since the court ruling on March 13, triggering allegations that the government was in contempt of court.
“How could you be in contempt when we’re engaging the court process? Elementary common sense will tell if you are engaging the court process, how you could be in contempt?” Gonsalves said on radio on Sunday.
He said that his government has filed an application of a stay of execution of the court order, which the court will hear on April 18.
Gonsalves, a lawyer, said that he had read the judgment of Justice Esso Henry, which held that the government had acted unconstitutionally in implementing the mandate.
The judge further ruled that the workers are entitled to all pay they would have received had it not been for the government’s actions, as well as damages to deter similar future acts.
The prime minister pointed out that even before reading the judgment, he had said that he had accepted the advice of senior lawyers, including retired judges “who are satisfied that the judgment, both on facts and law, is wrong in material ways.
“So, it had to be appealed,” he said and reiterated that the government acted “in what we consider to be proper, legal, constitutional, in a proportionate manner.
“This government needs to be clear, and the people of St. Vincent need to be clear and for succeeding governments, too, that whenever there is a pandemic, what we can do and what we can’t do,” the prime minister said.
He noted that Justice Henry delivered the oral summary of her judgment on the morning of March 13.
The Attorney General’s chambers received the written order from the court at 4:32 p.m. that day, Gonsalves said.
“And she had promised that the judgment will be delivered by the end of the week — the written judgment,” the prime minister said.
The prime minister noted that the following day — March 14 — was a public holiday.
Gonsalves said that on March 15, some public servants turned up to work and were told that the government had given notice orally of its intention to appeal and would be asking for a stay of execution of the order of the court.
“So all the various arrangements would have to be made administratively in respect of following the judgment if there is no stay,” the prime minister said.
He said he was advised that the judgment was not available until March 20.
“In order for the lawyers for the government to move expeditiously, they put in a notice of appeal with grounds arising from the orders themselves but had said in that notice of appeal that they reserve the right, upon the receipt of the written judgment, the reasoning, to amend their grounds, which they have done subsequently,” Gonsalves said.
He added that the notice of appeal had to be filed before the government could ask for a stay of execution of the judgment.
“And, on the Wednesday of that week — Wednesday and Thursday — all the judges were finding themselves — including those of the Court of Appeal — in Miami for a judicial conference,” Gonsalves said.
“So, the government’s lawyers acted expeditiously on every single issue,” he said, noting the date given for the hearing of the application for the stay of execution.
“Now, lawyers and jurists all over the world may well make commentary on what I’ve just said, on the facts that I’ve just outlined. I’m not making any commentary,” Gonsalves said, adding that he was just outlining the facts.
“There was nobody you could have gone to to deal with this matter in the way the circumstances evolved. I’m talking about for appeal and stay and all the rest of it,” Gonsalves said.