A Cayman Islands Grand Court judge has rejected claims in a 2016 lawsuit that the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service employed discriminatory practices in deciding which senior officers should be retired and when those retirements should occur.
Acting Grand Court Judge Nova Hall found in a March 15 ruling, which was released this week, that former Police Commissioner David Baines’s decision to retain some RCIPS officers beyond age 55 while “retiring” others was an “entirely appropriate government action.”
“The commissioner of police was well aware of the needs of the police force and he had an absolute duty to meet those needs,” Justice Hall wrote in her decision. “He had an absolute discretion to determine the contractual terms of each officer engaged on a special contract; and he could not be fettered in the terms that he used to attracted and retain necessary officers.”
The lawsuit, filed in January 2016, opened a window into some of the racial and nationalistic divisions that have been occurring in the local police service over the past decade.
The initial claim, made by two former RCIPS officers, alleged they were forced to retire at age 55 and then accept a lower rank within the police service if they wished to remain employed. A total of 10 current or former officers joined the suit, but four later withdrew their claims.
The retirement age of 55, set under a previous revision of the Cayman Islands Police Law, no longer applies to officers hired following Police Law (2010 revision) effective date, Nov. 11, 2010. The retirement age for all police officers who joined the force after that date is 60. Further changes to the government’s Public Service Management Law made in 2016 set the retirement age to 65.
However, anyone hired before the 2010 date who was below the rank of police chief inspector still had to retire at 55 or, if given the option, could be re-engaged as a police constable or senior constable, the lowest ranks in the police service, the lawsuit claimed.
During trial testimony, a number of current and former RCIPS officers testified to their belief that the age 55 retirement rule was used against officers from Cayman or the wider Caribbean, while officers who were recruited from the U.K. were routinely allowed to continue beyond that age on special one- or two-year contracts.
Inspector Rudolph Gordon, the former chairman of the Cayman Police Officers Association, told the court that the association first became aware of officers being “treated differently” under the law in 2013. The association, which later sued the RCIPS over the issue, referenced the case of five U.K. police officers – all over age 55 – who were allowed to stay on with the department in the same rank.
Meanwhile, Mr. Gordon said, local officers were being subjected to the “degrading” experience of having to be reduced in rank if they wished to stay on the force.
“It was very difficult for officers to adjust to being reengaged at the lowest rank,” the court recorded Mr. Gordon’s testimony as stating. “[Mr. Gordon] testified that he would feel personally degraded to return to work as a constable having attained the position of inspector.”
The court found that there was no reason to believe older officers would be humiliated or degraded by other members of the RCIPS staff for being returned at a lower rank after age 55. In fact, Justice Hall said, most officers testified that they still enjoyed the respect of fellow officers at work upon return at lower rank.
Furthermore, Justice Hall found that it was not only U.K.-born officers who were given contract extensions beyond age 55 at the same rank. She referenced the case of Sergeant Davis Scott, a Caymanian, who was retained by former Commissioner Baines beyond that age due to his special relationship and knowledge of the East End community on Grand Cayman. Mr. Baines, who once awarded Mr. Scott the “police officer of the year” commendation, said the sergeant had “local knowledge that was second-to-none.”
The five U.K.-based officers referenced by the police association in the lawsuit – Sean Bryan, Peter McLoughlin, Richard Oliver, Dennis Walkington and Ian Brellisford – were all specialists in certain areas where Cayman lacked local officers with that knowledge including police training, anti-corruption investigations and firearms protocols.
“Officers hired under special contracts were not subject to the terms of the re-engagement police for practical reasons,” Justice Hall wrote. “The posts sought to be filled could not be filled locally and these were usually posts which required senior officers.
“The circumstances of the five British officers, all of whom are [or were at the time] on special contracts were distinguished. Officers hired on special contracts were not subject to the terms of the re-engagement police. The argument concerning the British officers is therefore rejected.”