Cheryl Miller, the employee of the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Affairs, who shot into the public limelight after she dragged from her office and forcibly committed to the St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital in 2012, will have to wait a while longer before she claims the almost $850,000 in compensation she received over the ordeal.
Although she was awarded the compensation at the end of her lawsuit in 2015, Miller had agreed not to enforce it pending the determination of an appeal from the North West Regional Health Authority (NWRHA), which operates the State-run mental health institution.
However, when the appeal came up for hearing before Appellate Judges Allan Mendonca, Nolan Bereaux and Peter Jamadar at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday the NWRHA’s lawyers were not ready to proceed.
Devesh Maharaj, one of the NWRHA’s attorneys, asked for an adjournment as he claimed that his client wanted a Senior Counsel, who was not available for yesterday’s hearing, to lead its legal team as the case set a legal precedent which affected all mental health workers.
“It put a cloud over them. They have become cautious and reluctant to perform their duties,” Maharaj said.
Miller’s lawyer Stanley Marcus, SC, objected as he claimed that his client wanted the case determined expeditiously as she is yet to claim the compensation awarded to her.
“She is anxious to have the matter resolved,” Marcus said.
Mendonca and his colleagues agreed with Maharaj and agreed to postpone to the case to October 15.
In her lawsuit against the NWRHA, Miller claimed that staff at the hospital did not have the authority under the Mental Health Act to detain her against her will at the ministry’s office at the International Waterfront Centre in Port-of-Spain on March 21, 2012.
In her 34-page judgment in the case, former High Court judge Judith Jones rejected claims by the hospital’s staff that their actions were permitted under section 15 of the legislation which allows for the committal of a citizen in circumstances where they are found “wandering at large” on a roadway or other public space.
The judge noted that their claims were not applicable as Miller’s cubicle at the ministry could not be classified as a public space.
Miller was also attempting to hold thenGender Minister Verna St Rose-Greaves, the ministry’s permanent secretary Sandra Jones and her deputy Jasmine Pascall accountable as they were the ones who contacted the mental health officials who detained her, but Jones disagreed.
“That they may have dealt with the situation differently and avoided these drastic consequences suggests to me poor judgment on their part,” Jones said, as she ruled that the women were not culpable in Miller’s detention.
In her judgment, the NWRHA was ordered to pay Miller $450,000 in damages for the embarrassment she suffered from the incident.
Miller was also awarded $75,000 in exemplary damages for being treated with long-acting psychotic drugs while at the hospital.
The remainder of her compensation package represented the money which her family spent on legal fees for a habeas corpus application which resulted in her being released from the hospital after 17 days.
While the NWRHA is challenging the findings made in respect to its employees in the appeal, Miller has filed a separate appeal over the dismissal of her claim against Jones and Pascall.
Kandace Bharath is also representing the NWRHA while Ravi Rajcoomar and Savitri Maharaj are representing Jones and Pascall.
Reporter: Derek Achong