The Office of the Commissioner of Police has been ordered to disclose the scores earned by 157 police officers in a promotion exercise in 2018 to an officer, who was given a wrong score due to an error by the private consultancy firm hired to assist in the exercise. Delivering a written judgment earlier this week, High Court Judge Margaret Mohammed made the order as she upheld acting Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Nigel Birch’s lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
According to the evidence in the case, on November 19, 2018, Birch wrote the promotion examination and scored 77 per cent. The following day, Birch attended the oral interview, which was held at the Hilton Trinidad hotel by Odyssey Consultant Inc Limited.
Later that night, Birch received an email from the company indicating that he scored 80 per cent in the interview.
However, several weeks later, Birch received a second email from the company claiming that there was an arithmetic error and he had, in fact, scored 60 per cent in the interview.
The revised score meant that Birch placed 122nd on the merit list for promotions instead of between 64 and 67 as initially anticipated. Later that month, 58 Inspectors were promoted to the rank of ASP.
In August last year, Birch made a request under the FOIA for disclosure of all material related to the promotion exercise.
While the TTPS disclosed most of the requested documents, it refused to release the scores earned by Birch’s colleagues, as it claimed the information was exempt as it constituted an unreasonable disclosure of personal information.
In her judgement, Justice Mohammed stated that insufficient evidence was provided to justify the exemption, as the TTPS did not explain how it would be impractical to contact the other officers.
“The Defendant’s reason that it is impractical to notify the 157 officers of the request for the requested information is hollow and is inconsistent with the philosophy of the FOIA, which favours the disclosure of the information,” Mohammed said, as she noted that they could have been notified via email.
She ruled that it failed to justify the policy, which he claimed has been the established practice since 2012.
“Even if there has been a practice after 2012 not to reveal the scores of officers on the Merit List, it seems to me that the introduction of this practice demonstrates a failure by the Defendant to appreciate the impact of promotions in the TTPS on the morale of its officers, as this concerns career advancement and more importantly, their own confidence in the promotion system of the TTPS,” Mohammed said.
She also rejected claims that the provision of the information would lead to abuses of the FOIA.
“In my opinion, the provision of the requested information would do quite the opposite. It would increase transparency in the promotions process, as officers who have subjected themselves to this process would know where they scored relative to others,” she said.
As part of her judgement, Mohammed also ruled that the TTPS also failed to properly consider Section 35 of the FOIA, which provides for disclosure of exempted documents where there is a strong public interest in such.
Mohammed ordered that the disclosure be made within 21 days of her judgment.
The TTPS was also ordered to pay Birch’s legal costs for the lawsuit.
Birch was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Jared Jagroo, Che Dindial and Natasha Bisram, while Keron Ramkhalawan represented the TTPS.