Justice Frank Seepersad

Derek Achong

All decisions made by the Nursing Council of T&T since the end its members’ term last April have been invalidated.

This was the outcome of a lawsuit over the management of the organisation, brought by former president David Murphy after he was ousted in August, last year.

In a 22-page judgement delivered at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday morning, High Court Judge Frank Seepersad ruled that there was no provision under the Nursing Personnel Act, which established the council and dictates functions to extend the powers of its members past their three-year term. As a result, Seepersad ruled that any decisions taken since the expiration of the council’s term are of no effect.

“The consequences of the aforesaid declaration resonate with the court but it cannot and will not ignore or sanction the evident disregard for proper administration,” he said.

The council consists of 16 members. Six are selected by the Minister of Health, nine are elected by the more than 10,000 members of the profession and the Chief Nursing Officer serves as an ex-officio member. The council then votes for a president, vice-president and treasurer from among its ranks.

Seepersad noted that before the lawsuit had gone to trial, he made a preliminary ruling clearing the way for Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh to make his appointments for the council to have a valid quorum to ratify previous decisions on non-contentious issues such as registering nurses and administering nursing examinations.

“This call fell on deaf ears and the failure to act, engendered in the Court the uneasy feeling that there was no desire to adopt a non-adversarial approach which had the potential to relieve possible distress to the interested parties and other third parties who were impacted by the decisions,” Seepersad said.

However, Seepersad still expressed hope that the issues would be now resolved amicably and also suggested that legislative intervention might also be useful.

“Far too often in this Republic, the best interest of citizens and the proper discharge of statutory obligations are circumvented by insular concerns and focus is not placed upon the issues for resolution but upon the personalities involved. Personal agendas persistently trump propriety, practical implications and the pledge to serve,” he said.

As a secondary issue in the lawsuit, Murphy, principal of the School of Nursing at the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital and a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor, challenged a decision by his fellow council members to oust him and appoint Chris Craigwell to the position.

While Seepersad agreed that the election was not valid, he said Murphy had to shoulder some of the blame as he continued to act and only sought to seek clarification on the power of the council after he was removed.

“The instant claimant was actively involved in the unlawful and unauthorised effecting of decisions and ought to have sought the legal advice which he subsequently received and which presumably led to the institution of the instant proceedings before he oversaw the processes which purported to effect the unlawful and unauthorised post-April 2019 decision,” Seepersad said.

Although Murphy essentially won his lawsuit, based on Seepersad findings against him, he (Seepersad) ordered that the parties bear their own legal costs for pursuing the lawsuit.

Judgement in the case comes a week after several professional groups representing almost 3,000 registered nurses were given the green light to challenge Deyalsingh’s decision to reappoint Murphy after Seepersad’s initial ruling.

In their lawsuit, the associations are contending that Deyalsingh’s decision, taken in October last year, was irrational, unjustified and improper. The associations are seeking declarations against the decision as well as an order seeking to reverse it.

The case is expected to come up for hearing this morning.

Murphy was represented by Gerald Ramdeen, Dayadai Harripaul, and Umesh Maharaj. Elaine Green represented the council, while Martin George represented the nursing associations, who intervened in Murphy’s case.