A legal officer at the Ministry of Sport has failed in her bid to participate in former government minister and social activist Devant Maharaj’s lawsuit seeking access to a report commissioned by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley into the settlement of a sexual harassment claim against former Sports Minister Darryl Smith from his former personal assistant.
Delivering a written decision, earlier this week, High Court Judge Nadia Kangaloo refused the legal officer permission to be an interested party to the lawsuit.
Maharaj first sought disclosure of the information, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seven months after Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley terminated Smith’s appointment on April 10, 2018.
Rowley’s decision came shortly after an investigative newspaper report about a $150,000 settlement of an Industrial Court case brought by Smith’s former personal assistant. She was alleging that she was wrongfully dismissed and claimed sexual misconduct from Smith. The settlement featured a non-disclosure agreement.
Rowley first transferred Smith to the Ministry of Housing before he was terminated a day later. Rowley then appointed a three-member committee to investigate the circumstances of the settlement.
The committee, consisting of former permanent secretary Jackie Wilson, Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD) executive director Folade Mutota and attorney Elaine Green, submitted its report but it was never made public as it was allegedly prepared in breach of natural justice, as persons were not allowed to respond to allegations levelled against them.
In response to the lawsuit, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) also claimed that the report was exempt as it had the potential to harm the reputations of affected parties.
The legal officer, whose name was withheld because of the nature of the case, applied to intervene in the case as she claimed that she was subject to adverse criticism in the report and that her reputation would be adversely affected if it was to be disclosed.
Justice Kangaloo initially allowed the legal officer to join the case, but was forced to reconsider her decision after Maharaj successfully challenged the decision in the Court of Appeal. In her decision, Kangaloo ruled that while the legal officer had legitimate concerns over the committee’s report it did not mean that she had a stake in Maharaj’s lawsuit.
“While the Court agrees that she ought to have been heard before the Committee, it also agrees with the submission advanced by Senior Counsel for Devant Maharaj that her right to have been heard before the Committee does not translate to a right to be heard in these proceedings,” Kangaloo said.
She noted that the legal officer’s position over the non-disclosure of the report mirrored that of the OPM, which was well placed to defend the lawsuit.
“In consideration of all of the above, this Court finds that there is nothing on the facts of the present case to justify her intervention at this stage in the proceedings and same is, in fact, unwarranted,” Kangaloo said.
As part of her decision, Justice Kangaloo adjourned the case to January 18, when she will host a status hearing to give the parties directions on the filing of submissions in the substantive case.
Maharaj was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jared Jagroo, Alvin Pariagsingh, and Dr Che Dindial. Fyard Hosein, SC, Amirah Rahaman, Ryan Grant and Tennille Ramkissoon represented the OPM. The legal officer was represented by Justin Phelps, Sangeeta Latchan and Svetlana Dass.