Veera Bhajan

No chance to perform duties: Veera Bhajan

ATTORNEY Veera Bhajan, who is yet to begin working as a lay assessor at the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (EOT) even after being appointed by the President, has been given permission to apply for judicial review over the issue.

Leave was granted during a virtual hearing on Wednesday before Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams.

The matter between Bhajan and the EOT, its chairman Donna Prowell-Raphael and the Attorney General will next be heard on October 1.

Bhajan, who was born without arms, has been an attorney since 2011.

She was appointed a lay assessor of the tribunal for three years by President Paula-Mae Weekes on March 17, 2021.

She thereafter tried via telephone and e-mails to communicate with the tribunal about being able to fulfil her lawful duties.

She received correspondence from EOT chairman Donna Prowell-Raphael, which stated that currently there was not the logistic and/or financial means to accommodate or support another lay assessor.

It was also said that, given the tribunal’s current workflow, the assistance of another lay-assessor was not required, as the tribunal was well served by the current panel.

In court documents, Bhajan, however, countered that under the Equal Opportunity Act, the President is the sole decision maker and officer holder with the powers regarding her appointment and termination.

Before her appointment, Bhajan—a Hummingbird Medal (Silver) awardee—was self-employed in her private practice, her only source of income.

She terminated this after her appointment to the tribunal, but has not been paid salary and allowances as they pertain to the new position.

In response last month to Bhajan’s pre-action protocol letter, the EOT stated that the President did not consult with the chairman of the EOT before making Bhajan’s appointment.

It also said Bhajan’s appointment was purportedly made on the basis that she had combined experience in law and social welfare for ten years, but it was claimed that she had no listed experience in social welfare.

The office of the Attorney General, in its response to Bhajan’s letter back then, said her appointment was valid and she was entitled to her outstanding salary and allowances from the date of her appointment.

Bhajan will be seeking, through her court action, a declaration that the EOT and Prowell-Raphael’s failure or refusal to comply with her appointment by the President is unlawful, in excess of their jurisdiction, constitutes an abuse of power was done in bad faith and deprives her of a legitimate expectation.

She is also seeking an order to quash their decision in failing or refusing to comply with her appointment by the President and one directing them to comply with the appointment.

She is also seeking an injunction restraining them from preventing her from fulfilling her lawful duties as one of their lay-assessors.

Bhajan is being represented by senior counsel Alvin Fitzpatrick and attorneys Rajiv Chaitoo, Michael Rooplal, Rajiv Persad, Shari Fitzpatrick and Gabriel Hernandez.

Documents are expected to be served on the EOT, Prowell-Raphael and the office of the AG.

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