Justice Esco Henry has reserved her decision in a matter in which former public servants have sought judicial review of the decision by the Government to terminate them because of their refusal to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
The matter was heard this week in the High Court with attorney Cara Shillingford-Marsh, Jomo S Thomas and Shirlan M Barnwell appearing for the Claimants and Anthony Astaphan SC, Karen Duncan, Cerepha Harper-Joseph and Grahame Bollers for the Defendants.
The Claimants are nine former public servants who are challenging SR&O No. 28 of 2021 – The Public Health (Public bodies Special Measures) Rules, 2021 introduced by the Minister of Health and the Environment and the decisions of the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Commissioner of Police, the Police Service Commission deeming them to have resigned their respective offices within the public service.
The Claimants are also seeking constitutional relief for what they allege to be breaches of their pension rights and right to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment arising from what they say is wrongful termination.
The defendants are The Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, The Public Service Commission, The Commissioner of Police, The Police Service Commission and The Attorney General while the claimants are Shanile Howe, Novita Roberts, Cavet Thomas, Alfanso Lyttle, Brenton Smith, Sylvorne Olliver, Shefflorn Ballantyne, Travis Cumberbatch and Rohan Giles.
The Rules in question were gazetted on October 19, 2021 and are in relation to Sections 43B and 147 of the Public Health Act, which was amended in Parliament on August 6, 2021.
The amendments to the Act were tabled in Parliament by Minister of Health St Clair Prince.
During the two days of arguments, November 29, and December 1, a major aspect of the argument surrounded the interpretation of the word “Minister” as stated in SR&O No. 28 of 2021 and if “the Minister” could be interpreted as “the Cabinet”; and whether the Minister of Health was empowered to make regulations for the public service at large and not just the departments over which he has supervision.
The defendants argued that the terms and conditions of the employment of the Claimants indicate that they are subjected to the laws and regulations made in St Vincent and the Grenadines, including those made by the Minister of Health in the interest of the public.
Senior counsel Anthony Astaphan argued that if the Minister is restricted to making regulations only for his ministry, how then could he make laws for the private sector and the public at large. He said the Cabinet, which is the core of executive power of the state had approved the Special Measures and recommended rules to ensure compliance of the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer.
Lead counsel for the claimants Cara Shillingford-Marsh said in conclusion they are seeking to quash Regulation 8 and 5 of the SR&O and to declare that the claimants are still employed, so that they would be entitled to all of the benefits of employment including salaries and pension rights.
At the close of submissions, Justice Henry said her decision is not likely to be ready before the New Year.
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