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A matter of principle
Justice Judith Jones’s ruling that the 2011 decision of President George Maxwell Richards to revoke the appointment of the chairman of the Police Service Commission is significant in a number of ways. Mr Nizam Mohammed, an experienced politician and lawyer, who once served as Speaker of the House of Representatives, successfully challenged the actions of the President in the high court.
The decision is also significant in that the judge ruled that the President, like the rest of the society, has the responsibility to be fair and not deny the right to due process. The judge said she was “satisfied that Mohammed’s constitutional protection to the right to procedural fairness has been infringed.”
She said too that the President had the responsibility to Mr Mohammed “to meet and treat with the allegations made against him and the conclusions drawn from these allegations.” The circumstances that led the President to remove Mohammed from the chair of the commission were that in his role as chairman, Mohammed, before a meeting of a parliamentary joint select committee, made claims that amongst the senior ranks of the police service there were very few citizens of Indian descent.
He also claimed that other members of the commission had conspired against him. Many people were angered by the statement, among them Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Mr Mohammed will not be reinstated as chairman of the commission, nor does he wish to be. He has proved his point, which was a matter of principle.
The judgment of Justice Jones should not be taken so much as tainting the tenure of President Richards, nor does it mean that the President did not perform his functions with adequate neutrality. Rather, it shows that whether or not Mr Mohammed was out to create mischief or genuinely interested in addressing the ethnic imbalance he raised within the hierarchy of the police service, President Richards apparently did not give him a chance to give his side of the story before sacking him, and that Mohammed was entitled to this.
The ruling also has a wider significance, then. It dispels the view that has been expressed by many over the years that there was no means by which the decisions of the President could be challenged in the courts. It also demonstrates that people are becoming more willing and eager to assert their rights even against the highest in the land.
As Mr Mohammed’s experience shows, the President is more than a mere figurehead and his actions may have considerable impact on an individual or national scale. While the President himself may not be subject to legal action over his conduct in his official capacity, the courts have now been shown to be willing and able to pronounce on the constitutionality of such conduct.
This ruling has opened the door for other citizens so aggrieved in future to take similar action. It therefore places the incoming President on notice that he must at all times ensure that he practises the principles of fair play and justice.
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