Ramlal seeking to quash JSC discipline tribunal

Supreme Court Registrar, Sita Ramlal is challenging the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in court over whether the body has the authority to discipline her for failing to report to the acting Chancellor of the Judiciary before she proceeded on extended leave and when she resumed duties last year.

Sita Ramlal
Sita Ramlal

The JSC through its chairman, Chancellor (ag) Carl Singh, had called on the registrar to appear before a tribunal in November 2008 to answer allegations of breaches of discipline. The body had pointed out that she had taken 33 days unauthorized leave from the period May 9, 2008 to June 10, 2008; that she had failed to report to the acting chancellor when she resumed duty, and that she also departed Guyana on unauthorized leave for the period September 15, 2008 to September 25, 2008 and also from November 24, 2008 to December 5, 2008.

However, Ramlal sees no reason why she should be disciplined since according to her, the leave had been approved by the Office of the President (OP) through Head of the Presidential Secretariat (HPS), Dr. Roger Luncheon, the office which she recognizes as the authority to approve her leave and to which she must report on resumption of duties.

The registrar said she is not aware that she is under any duty to formally report her resumption of duties to the acting chancellor and has since filed a High Court action through a battery of attorneys: Rex McKay SC; Miles Fitzpatrick SC; Sase Narain SC, and Stephen Fraser seeking orders for the JSC decision to call on her to answer disciplinary charges to be quashed, and for the decision to proceed against her to be also quashed.

Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire is hearing the case which came up in January and was adjourned to next week. Justice George-Wiltshire granted leave to the JSC to file a response.

In court documents filed, Ramlal said that she proceeded on leave of absence approved by the acting chancellor from May 6, 2008 to May 8, 2008 to be spent overseas, but while in the US she fell seriously ill and had to be hospitalized for 19 days during which she had surgery.  She said that OP was informed of her medical condition and predicament, and had approved her stay in the US for as long as her condition demanded or necessitated it.
On June 11, 2008 she resumed duties, and by way of letter dated the same day she informed OP. She said that the acting chancellor was also informed by a letter of her resumption of duties through acting Chief Justice Ian Chang. Ramlal said she believed Justice Chang did forward the letter to the JSC. Subsequently, she received a copy of a letter from OP sent by the acting chancellor to the HPS, in which the chancellor informed Luncheon that the HPS was not the proper person to whom Ramlal should have reported her resumption of duties. The chancellor said too, that he had not been formally advised of her resumption of duties and that, until he was properly so advised, Ramlal was being considered absent without leave.
Ramlal said that she then wrote to the chancellor informing him that the President had instructed that her resumption of duties should be reported to the HPS.  She then applied for and was granted special leave from OP from September 15-24, 2008 to be spent abroad for the purpose of having a medical check-up and further medical treatment. When she returned to work on September 26, 2008 it was reported to OP, and copies of the letter were sent to the JSC.

In November 2008, Ramlal applied for leave again which was approved by OP from November 24-December 4, 2008 for the purpose of a further medical check-up and medical treatment overseas. On her resumption of duties she reported to OP.

But on December 10, 2008 the JSC dispatched a letter to Ramlal informing her that she should appear before the commission to answer for her unauthorized leave for 33 days; her failure to report her resumption of duties to the acting chancellor and her unauthorized departure from Guyana for the period identified.

Ramlal said the JSC acted in error of law and therefore without or in excess of jurisdiction in taking the decision to call upon her to answer allegations of breaches of discipline when it did not fall within the jurisdiction of the chancellor to grant her leave (to be spent within or outside Guyana) and when there is no legal duty for her to report her resumption of duties to the chancellor.

According to the registrar, the acting chancellor as the virtual complainant and an interested party in all the allegations of breaches of discipline levelled against her could not, consistent with the principles of natural justice, have been a member of the tribunal which decided to call upon her to answer the charges.

She said Section 11 of the High Court Act, states that the registrar of the Supreme Court is a chief executive officer of a government department and therefore the chancellor of the judiciary as head of judicial officers of the state “has no administrative jurisdiction over the registrar, a non judicial officer, in relation to the grant or refusal of leave of absence and therefore the registrar has no legal duty to obtain from the chancellor, leave of absence or to report to the chancellor her resumption of duties after such leave”.

Further, Ramlal stated that even through ex officio the chancellor is the chairman of the JSC and the JSC had disciplinary authority over the registrar of the Supreme Court, such disciplinary authority does  not mean that either the JSC or the chancellor has been conferred with the administrative authority over the registrar of the Supreme Court in relation to the grant of leave of absence or the right to be reported to in relation to the resumption of work by the registrar after the expiry of such leave.

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