The Cayman Islands Grand Court will not hear a judicial review application from the territory’s acting fire chief, who claimed in a court filing last year that he was forced into retirement.
In a decision released Monday, Justice Richard Williams indicated that it would be premature for the court to hear such a case as the one brought by veteran firefighter Rosworth McLaughlin when no final decisions have been made and the government’s own internal appeals process had not been followed.
“This is not one of those cases for reviewing the decision-making process before that process is completed and a final decision reached,” Justice Williams wrote. “Importantly, in this matter, [Mr. McLaughlin] remains employed 7½ months after the date upon which [Mr. McLaughlin] contends the decision had been made to retire him and there still remains no notice date for any retirement.”
Mr. McLaughlin continues to receive pay from the government, according to court records, following his placement on medical leave last year.
According to the claims in the judicial review application last year, a decision was made on April 29, 2014 to retire the firefighter, who has served since 1979 and had been acting as chief fire officer since March 2013.
However, Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush, who has responsibility for oversight management of the fire service, said at the time that he had made no such decision and that the ministry was actually in the midst of negotiations with Mr. McLaughlin over a “settlement package.”
According to Justice Williams’s ruling denying the judicial review application, Mr. McLaughlin had applied in October 2013 for “voluntary separation” from the fire service, similar to selecting an option for early retirement, but was told his application for separation did not meet government criteria.
Then in February 2014, Mr. McLaughlin submitted an application to be considered for the full-time post of chief fire officer. He was advised at the time that the Cayman Islands Fire Service intended to restructure, eliminating the post of deputy chief fire officer, which Mr. McLaughlin held prior to becoming acting chief fire officer. That same month, Mr. Bush notified Mr. McLaughlin of the ministry’s intention to retire Mr. McLaughlin under the Public Service Management Law to “improve the efficiency” of the civil service.
Mr. McLaughlin then wrote in a March 9, 2014 letter to Mr. Bush that he “was prepared to retire early” from the fire service, as long as certain issues were addressed. An agreement over the “settlement package” was discussed in various communications over the next several months, but no resolution was reached, and Mr. McLaughlin was never formally “retired.”
An appeal of what Mr. McLaughlin took to be his “forced retirement” was lodged with the Cayman Islands Civil Service Appeals Commission on May 22, 2014. Again, the judge said this step was premature.
“By lodging the appeal in this hasty manner, [Mr. Bush] was not afforded the opportunity to consider whether he wished to move on to the final part of the process [forced retirement],” Justice Williams wrote.
In the meantime, two other acting fire chiefs, Roy Grant and John Bodden, have been appointed to lead the fire service. Mr. Bodden remains in the position to date.
Mr. McLaughlin claimed in court records that the decision to retire him appeared to have been based at least in part on a consultant’s review of the Cayman Islands Fire Service. The study was done by the U.K.’s chief fire and rescue adviser, Peter Holland.
Mr. Holland was in Cayman during 2014 to discuss certain issues his review had identified in the local fire service, but a full report of that evaluation has never been made public. Mr. McLaughlin stated in court documents that he has never seen it either.
“Implicit in the decision of [the ministry chief officer, Mr. Bush] is an adverse finding with respect to the performance of [Mr. McLaughlin] and his suitability to hold the post of deputy chief fire officer and/or chief fire officer,” Mr. McLaughlin’s judicial review filing states. “No opportunity was given to him, prior to the decision to retire him, to respond to any evidence or allegation to that effect.”
The Civil Service Appeals Commission’s decision not to hear the case amounts to a refusal to carry out a statutory duty, according to claims made in the judicial review application. However, according to the government statement, the commission could not properly hear the case because he had not been retired.
“Due to these circumstances, the Civil Service Appeals Commission declined to accept the appeal,” the statement read.