Lewis refuses to reinstate three cops as recommended by Ombudsman

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
August 16, 2000

Commissioner of Police, Laurie Lewis has refused to reinstate three policemen as recommended by the Ombudsman.

The officers according to the findings of the Ombudsman, retired High Court judge, S Y Mohamed, were dismissed from the Police Force without a hearing.

The Ombudsman had submitted a special report to the National Assembly about the matter on December 30, 1999. A copy was sent to the Commissioner.

The three officers, a police sergeant, a lance corporal, and a constable, were dismissed by the Commissioner for having illegally withdrawn from the Police Force in contravention of the Section 37A(1)(b) of the Police Act. The sergeant was dismissed in 1991; the lance corporal was fired in 1995; and the constable in 1996.

In a letter to the Ombudsman, Lewis said that the sergeant had stayed away from work and did not produce a sick certificate for the days he was absent. According to the Ombudsman, the sergeant claimed that he delivered a medical certificate to his supervisor, who was a deputy superintendent, to cover the period of his absence but the supervisor denied receiving the medical certificate.

The officer was deemed to have withdrawn from the Force under 37A(1)(b) of the Police Act. A letter from the Commissioner to the sergeant dated September 18, 1991 informed him that the Commissioner had invoked Article 212(3) of the constitution and struck him off the Force. No criminal or disciplinary charge was preferred against the officer.

In the case of the lance-corporal, his absence was reported to the Commissioner of Police by the Divisional Commander and he was deemed to have illegally withdrawn from the Force and was accordingly struck off. In a letter to the non-commissioned officer, the Commissioner informed him that he had illegally withdrawn from the Force in contravention of section 37A(1)(b) of the Police Act and had been struck off the Force under the provisions of Article 212(3) of the Constitution. The lance corporal claimed that during this period, he had been granted a leave of absence by an Inspector who was his supervisor. He too was not charged with any criminal or disciplinary offence.

The constable, according to a letter dated May 1, 1998, from the Commissioner to the Ombudsman, contended that he had submitted his application for annual leave to a sergeant who authorised him to proceed on leave. The sergeant denied this and said that the constable did not report for duty on March 27, 1996.

The Commissioner informed the Ombudsman that he did not believe that the sergeant permitted the constable to proceed on leave but that the constable had walked off the job and as such had absconded and his services were properly terminated.

The officers complained to the Ombudsman who, after investigating the matter, concluded that the Commissioner had erred in dismissing the officers without giving them a hearing and recommended their reinstatement.

Justice Mohamed explained to Stabroek News that the officers committed acts of misconduct under the Police Discipline Act Cap 17:01 and were therefore entitled to a hearing under the Act before any disciplinary action was taken against them.

The Act provides for the officers to have been represented by an officer(s) of their choice to assist them in presenting their defence and to call witnesses to testify on their behalf.

The Ombudsman noted that in relation to the constable, there had been four disciplinary charges for absence without leave pending against him which were similar to the one for which he had been dismissed.

The Ombudsman observed that notwithstanding the four charges, the constable continued to work with Force and that it was while he was in its employ that the Commissioner had concluded that the constable had walked off the job and as such absconded and his services were properly terminated.

But Justice Mohamed pointed out that the Commissioner cannot overlook the Act and exercise his powers under the Constitution and the Police Act to discipline them.

The Ombudsman said that in any event, the Commissioner must in all cases give an officer a hearing before he exercises his powers of dismissal under the Constitution and the Police Act, stressing that he had no powers of dismissal without a hearing.

The Ombudsman has complained that attempts to engage the Commissioner on the matter had been in vain despite several letters and telephone calls.

Stabroek News was unable to contact the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj for a comment on this matter up to press time.

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