Court rules in favour of State Law Office staff

The Supreme Court has quashed the direction of the Prime Minister that instructed the Director General of Finance to hold back a sum of Vt45,748,200 that was published by The Government Remuneration Tribunal (GRT), for the staff of the State Law Office (SLO).

The amount was supposed to cover salary of the employees of the courts, and Public Prosecutor as well but in this case it was only the SLO officers involved.

Mr Justice Ronald Young who heard the case said that in August 2016, GRT published a determination relating to the salaries of employees involved.

The Court heard that the payment was supposed to be available in their account on January 1, 2017 but was delayed until the parliament passed an Appropriation Bill on June 6, 2017 and gazetted in June 8 to take effect on that day.

On June 27, 2017, Prime Minister Charlot Salwai wrote to the Finance director to withhold the payment.

In his decision on Thursday this week, Justice Young ordered the money to be released to the staff of SLO.

He then quashed the Prime Minister’s order advising Finance to make payment on the salary that was awarded to them in August 2016 GRT determination.

The quashing is only related to SLO staff given that the others were not part of that proceedings.

The Court quashed the decision in the letter of the PM which claimed that ‘you are also hereby notified that Order no. 62 of 2017 should not be affected until the Council of Ministers deliberate on proposed increments’.

The Attorney General as head of SLO took a neutral stance in the proceedings while the GRT, Prime Minister and Council Of Ministers (COM) opposed the orders sought.

Justice Young said that a judicial review is a way of ensuring the accountability of government by the courts considering whether the government has acted within its lawful power but said that there was no suggestion by the defendants that the PM’s directions in his letter was not susceptible to judicial review.

He said that the claimants have standing to bring the proceedings given the PM’s decision directly affected them.

The Judge further ruled that it was the GRT case that the proposed pay rates for most of the SLO exceeded the maximum amount payable under the GRT 2016 determination.

He said that further two employees were mis-categorized as they were administrative employees who had wrongly been included in the legal category.

Justice Young said that these errors meant that the PM was correct to withhold the proposed unlawful payments.

The Judge said that the government claims that the SLO head was supposed to consult the Judicial Service Commission as he was obliged to do so.

While discussing the evidence, Justice Young said that GRT’s submission focused on the Attorney General salary scales in the September 2016 assessment rather than that of June 2017.

He said that the 2017 salary levels were in excess of the 2016 determination which is wrong and that drew concern from the PM.

The Judge said that GRT’s submission also exposed a misapprehension on their part as to the correct process for fixing individual salaries.

The case was filed by 39 staff of SLO as the claimants against Attorney General as the first defendant, GRT as the second defendant, PM as the third defendant and the fourth defendant which is the Council of Ministers.

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