Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago v Ramanoop

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Nicholls of Birkenhead
Judgment Date23 March 2005
Neutral Citation[2005] UKPC 15
CourtPrivy Council
Docket NumberAppeal No. 13 of 2004
Date23 March 2005
The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago
Siewchand Ramanoop

[2005] UKPC 15

Present at the hearing:-

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead

Lord Hoffmann

Lord Scott of Foscote

Baroness Hale of Richmond

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood

Appeal No. 13 of 2004

Privy Council

[Delivered by Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead]


This appeal raises the question whether exemplary damages may be awarded by way of redress for contravention of the human rights provisions enshrined in the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. The judge, Bereaux J, held they could not. The Court of Appeal by a majority reversed that decision: Sharma CJ and Kangaloo JA, Warner JA dissenting.


The proceedings relate to some quite appalling misbehaviour by a police officer. On the evening of 10 November 2000 Siewchand Ramanoop, a man aged 35, was in his local bar. As he was about to leave he had an altercation with a "thin, tall, dark man of East Indian descent". He left and went home. Later on the same evening when he was at home, at about 10.45 pm, he heard a car and someone calling his name. He opened the door and was confronted by two men, one a uniformed policeman and the other the "Indian man". Before he could say anything the policeman, PC Rahim, slapped him across the face and neck, turned him around, handcuffed him, and started beating him. PC Rahim cuffed and slapped Mr Ramanoop for 5-10 minutes. While doing so PC Rahim kept shouting "Yuh want tuh fucking interfere with police? Take dat. I will manners yuh. Doh ever interfere with police". Mr Ramanoop was helpless because he was handcuffed.


At this time Mr Ramanoop was clothed only in his underwear. He was pushed back into his house where PC Rahim continued to beat him for a further 2-3 minutes. PC Rahim told him to take a shirt and pants because "he was going to lock me up". PC Rahim refused to let Mr Ramanoop get dressed properly. He took Mr Ramanoop outside and shoved him into the back seat of a car and sat beside him. The car was driven by the "Indian man". While Mr Ramanoop was being driven to Gasparillo police station PC Rahim constantly cuffed and slapped him. He asked PC Rahim which police he had interfered with, but PC Rahim kept saying he would teach him a "lesson for interfering with police".


At the police station PC Rahim rammed Mr Ramanoop's head against the wall, causing a wound from which blood gushed at once. Mr Ramanoop was then handcuffed to an iron bar. PC Rahim taunted him ("Who buss your head?"), and poured rum over his head, causing the wound to burn and blood and rum to run into his eyes. He was taken to a bathroom and soaked in the shower while PC Rahim spun him around by the shoulders until he was dizzy.


Later Mr Ramanoop was allowed to get dressed. He was interviewed by PC Rahim who asked him to initial a written document. He refused. PC Rahim started slapping his head, and told him "If you doh sign dis yuh cyah fucking leave dis station her tonite". Mr Ramanoop was losing blood and feeling weak and dizzy. He signed the document as instructed because he was frightened at what PC Rahim might do to him if he did not. PC Rahim then apologised for "bussing" Mr Ramanoop's head but his wife was pregnant and he was "under some pressure". Mr Ramanoop was then taken home by the "Indian man". He arrived home at about 2 am.


Mr Ramanoop instituted these proceedings against the Attorney General by way of originating motion on 15 January 2001. He claimed declarations and damages, including exemplary damages. The motion was supported by an affidavit made by Mr Ramanoop setting out the facts summarised above.


The proceedings came before the court on 26 March 2001. The Attorney General did not dispute any of the facts. Bereaux J, with the consent of the Attorney General, made a number of declarations. The principal declarations were to the effect that Mr Ramanoop's arrest and imprisonment were unconstitutional and in breach of his rights under section 4(a) of the Constitution. So also was PC Rahim's assault upon Mr Ramanoop during this arrest and period of imprisonment. Section 4(a) recognises and declares the fundamental human right of an individual to liberty and security of the person.


On 2 May 2001 Bereaux J delivered a reserved judgment on the amount of damages payable. He awarded Mr Ramanoop $18,000 for the deprivation of his liberty for two hours and $35,000 for the assaults. He held he had no jurisdiction to award exemplary damages. PC Rahim's conduct was outrageous and in an ordinary action would attract an award of exemplary damages. But he was bound by observations made by Lord Salmon in Attorney General of St Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla v Reynolds [1980] AC 637. Even if not bound he considered exemplary damages were inappropriate and superfluous in proceedings brought under section 14 of the Constitution.


In the Court of Appeal the leading judgment was given by Sharma CJ. He said that section 14 of the Constitution contains no limit on the forms of redress the court may direct. In order to vindicate constitutional rights there is a need for a remedy additional to declarations and compensatory damages. In her dissenting judgment Warner JA noted that payment of compensation is a form of redress under section 14(1). But an award of exemplary damages cannot be ancillary to redress, because "nothing in section 14 speaks to punishment": para 18. She distinguished from exemplary damages, of which a punitive element is an essential characteristic, an award of an amount which would discourage future breaches of the same kind. The court can make an award of the latter character: para 2. The Court of Appeal allowed Mr Ramanoop's appeal and remitted the matter to a judge for the assessment of "exemplary/vindicatory" damages.


Chapter I of the Constitution makes provision for the recognition and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms. Section 14 is directed at the enforcement of these entrenched rights and freedoms:

"(1) For the removal of doubts it is hereby declared that if any person alleges that any of the provisions of this Chapter has been, is being, or is likely to be contravened in relation to him, then without prejudice to any other action with respect to the same matter which is lawfully available, that person may apply to the High Court for redress by way of originating motion.

(2) The High Court shall have original jurisdiction –

  • (a) to hear and determine any application made by any person in pursuance of subsection (1); and

  • (b) to determine any question arising in the case of any person which is referred to it in pursuance of subsection (4), and may, subject to subsection (3), make such orders, issue such writs and give such directions as it may consider appropriate for the purpose of enforcing, or securing the enforcement of, any of the provisions of this Chapter to the protection of which the person concerned is entitled."


Turning to the authorities their Lordships mention first, in order to put on one side, two decisions of the Privy Council. Neither affords any real assistance on the present issue. In Maharaj v Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago (No 2) [1979] AC 385 the predecessor Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago was under consideration, but for present purposes the relevant provisions were the same. Lord Diplock, at page 400, left open the question whether monetary compensation by way of redress can ever include an award of what in a case of tort would be called exemplary or punitive damages. In Attorney General of St Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla v Reynolds [1980] AC 637 the Board considered one aspect of the provision in the then Constitution of St Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla which corresponded to section 14 of the present Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago. The scope of the expression "redress" was not the subject of decision or express observation.


This calls for a little elaboration. In that case Reynolds had been wrongfully imprisoned. He brought proceedings claiming (1) damages for false imprisonment and (2) compensation pursuant to section 3(6) of the Constitution: see [1980] AC 637, 662F. Section 3(6) provided that anyone unlawfully arrested or detained was entitled to "compensation". The Court of Appeal's award of damages included a small sum as exemplary damages. The Board accepted, at page 662E, that exemplary damages do not fall within the ambit of "compensation". But section 16 of the Constitution of St Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla, corresponding to section 14 of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, expressly provided that redress might be sought under the Constitution without prejudice to any other available remedy. Thus the court had jurisdiction to award exemplary damages at common law. On that basis, it seems, the Board upheld the award of exemplary damages. Lord Salmon did not in terms express a view on the scope of the expression 'redress'. But their Lordships can readily understand how it has come about that this decision of the Board has been taken to be indicative of a restrictive interpretation of the court's ability to award damages under section 14.


In Trinidad and Tobago the Court of Appeal made observations on this issue in Jorsingh v Attorney General (1997) 52 WIR 501. The extent of the court's jurisdiction did not arise for decision. But de la Bastide CJ and Sharma JA both correctly prophesied that this issue would come before the Privy Council again. They expressed the hope their Lordships' Board would then re-examine this issue and the "tentatively austere" approach to damages adumbrated by Lord Diplock.


Encouraged by these observations courts in Trinidad and Tobago have subsequently awarded exemplary damages on claims for constitutional relief: for instance, Kangaloo J in Ramesar v Attorney General...

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