Two Dominican powerhouse attorneys faced off this week in St Lucia’s Civil High Court before Justice Rosalyn Wilkinson. Queen’s Counsel Anthony Astaphan led the charge for the claimant, Ausbert Regis, along with his associates Peter Foster and Rene St Rose while Queen’s Counsel Reginald Armour defended the Attorney General’s Chambers assisted by associates within the AG’s Chambers.
The case stems from Regis’ transfer in May 2010 from Commissioner of Police to a newly created position of Director of Special Initiatives with responsibility for security based in the Prime Minister’s Office. The DSI is a chief advisory position on matters of national security and reports directly to the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister’s address to the nation on May 30, 2010 was the first the public heard of the transfer of Regis to the PM’s Office, the appointment of then Assistant Commissioner of Police in Charge of Crime and Intelligence Vernon Francois as Acting Commissioner and the two personnel assigned to the posts of Deputy Commissioner of Police.
On June 2, 2010, Regis, through his attorneys, filed a suit against the government. Following several adjournments the case was finally heard on January 5, 6 and 7 of 2011. Two issues were brought to the fore during the case: the lawfulness of the transfer and the Cabinet’s role in Regis’ appointment.
Astaphan argued the Public Service Commission based its decision for transfer under Section 87 of the St Lucia Constitution which is titled Appointment ETC of Permanent Secretaries and Certain Other Public Officers but did not consider Section 94 which deals specifically with the Police Force, outlining the Force is institutionally separate from the rest of the public service. Section 94 does not express or imply any constitutional power to transfer an appointed police officer to a post in the public service. He furthered argued no common law has the right to transfer the Commissioner of Police. A transfer has to be by statutory or constitutional power. There are no provisions in the Police Act for such a transfer neither is there a Civil Service Act in St Lucia upon which the government can justify its decision.
However, Armour refuted that the Staff Orders places the police and fire officials under the category of Public Servant. In 2.16 of the Staff Orders under Liability of Transfer, provisions are made for the lateral transfer of public service officials. As far as the defense’s argument was concerned, Armour relied on cases from the United Kingdom as well as within the Caribbean region to justify that the process by which Regis was transferred was manifestly lawful.
Several Cabinet meetings were held prior to Regis’ transfer. On May 6, 2010, a second post of Deputy of Commissioner of Police was created even though the original post had remained vacant for two years since the retirement of Deputy Commissioner of Police Hermangild Francis in 2008.
On May 24, 2010, Deputy Prime Minister Lenard Montoute met with then Commissioner Regis. Montoute requested a patrol strategy to fight the upsurge of crime in the nation. On May 25, 2010, Regis presented this plan to the Prime Minister and the rest of the Cabinet. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a memorandum with recommendations on combating the rising crime situation in the country. May 26, 2010 saw Regis strategy being approved in principle by Cabinet. In the minutes of that Cabinet meeting, no one expressed the need to have a post of DSI.
Also on May 26, Cabinet Secretary Cosmos Richardson and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service Phillip Dalsou met before the Cabinet meeting to discuss possible candidates for the position of DSI. Richardson drafted Regis’ transfer letter and the DSI’s job description in the PM’s Office that day along with Dalsou. The minutes of the Cabinet meeting on that day gave no reference to Cabinet consulting on the draft job description.
Richardson admitted on May 25, 2010, he drafted the PM’s address to the nation which was aired on May 30, 2010. He affirms that he was not aware of the final product until it was televised on that Sunday. He testified in his draft there was nothing referring to the lack of faith in the Police Force nor was there anything about losing confidence in the leadership of the Force.
Dalsou prepared a memorandum on May 27, 2010 outlining the recommendations stemming from his discussion with Richardson a day earlier. The recommendations were different from the earlier memorandum from the PS in Home Affairs.
On May 28, 2010 the Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy issued Regis’ first transfer letter. He received the correspondence on May 29, 2010. A second correspondence on June 2, 2010 from the GG superseded the first. Regis’ transfer was effective May 27, 2010. The Public Service Commission held an emergency meeting on May 28, 2010 where the post of DSI was discussed.
Written submissions are expected to be made to the judge by January 21st following which a judgement will be made.