Harinath Ramoutar v (1) Commissioner Of Prisons (2) Public Service Commission

Facts

The appellant (R) appealed against a decision refusing him leave to apply for judicial review of the decision not to consider him for appointment as acting chief prisons welfare officer of the Trinidad and Tobago prison service.

The office of chief prisons welfare officer became temporarily vacant as a result of the transfer of the office-holder to other duties for a period of three years. It was decided to appoint an acting office-holder until the permanent holder returned. R was the next most senior prison welfare officer and he applied for the job. The agreed job specification for the office required a bachelor's degree in social work and R did not have such a degree. He was accordingly not considered for the post.

Held

The Public Service Commission Regulations applicable to acting appointments which were not the prelude to a permanent appointment established a general rule that the officer appointed would be the senior officer eligible for such acting appointment. The word "eligible" in the relevant regulation imported a threshold condition of appointability, but the relevant criteria of eligibility did not include the possession of a degree in social work. For the purposes of that regulation, "eligible" officers were existing officers of the prison service who were capable of performing the duties. The general rule of seniority was capable of being displaced by other relevant considerations. However, in the instant case, the Prisons Commissioner and the Public Service Commission treated the possession of a degree as a matter of threshold eligibility when it was not. They therefore never performed their statutory function of considering R's application on its merits. They neither applied the general rule of selection by seniority prescribed by the regulations, nor considered whether to depart from the general rule in all the circumstances. Since the period for which an acting office-holder was required had expired, there was no point in quashing the decision or remitting it for reconsideration. R was entitled to a declaration that the Public Service Commission had acted unlawfully in treating him as ineligible to be considered for appointment as acting chief prisons welfare officer by reason only that he did not have a degree in social work from a recognised institution or equivalent (see paras 12-21 of judgment).

Appeal allowed.

Comment

The Public Service Commission of Trinidad and Tobago acted unlawfully in treating the appellant as ineligible to be considered for appointment as acting chief prisons welfare officer by reason only that he did not have a degree in social work from a recognised institution or equivalent.

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