Suratt and Others v Attorney General (No 2)

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
CourtPrivy Council
JudgeLord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood
Judgment Date21 July 2008
Neutral Citation[2008] UKPC 38
Date21 July 2008
Docket NumberAppeal No 84 of 2006

[2008] UKPC 38

Privy Council

Present at the hearing:-

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Baroness Hale of Richmond

Lord Carswell

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood

Lord Mance

Appeal No 84 of 2006
Kenneth Suratt

and others

Appellants
and
The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago
Respondent

[Delivered by Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood]

1

This is a second stage of an appeal before the Board in protracted proceedings brought by the appellants consequent on the government's non-implementation of the Equal Opportunity Act 2000, an Act brought into force in January 2001. When the Act came into force, no steps had yet been taken to establish either an Equal Opportunity Commission or an Equal Opportunity Tribunal, both of them bodies central to the Act's workings and for which it made provision. The reason for the Act's continuing non-implementation, however, was not that but rather because the government in power since December 2001 was advised that the Act was unconstitutional, a conclusion reached also in the course of the appellants' ensuing constitutional challenge by Smith J in the High Court on 10 May 2004 and by the Court of Appeal (Sharma CJ, Archie and Mendonca JJA) on 26 January 2006.

2

The first stage of this appeal was concluded on 15 October 2007 when the Board (Lord Bingham of Cornhill dissenting) allowed the appellants' appeal (with costs), declaring the Act (as later immaterially amended) not to be inconsistent with the constitution of Trinidad and Tobago and that it should be implemented "without further delay". The appellants were given liberty to apply to the Board, if so advised, for further relief. It is pursuant to that provision that this further stage of the appeal is now before the Board (constituted as before). For the purposes of this judgment their Lordships will take as read the very full judgments previously given both by Baroness Hale of Richmond on behalf of the Board and by Lord Bingham of Cornhill. The present judgment is, accordingly, best regarded as a further chapter of the earlier judgments (albeit this time unanimous).

3

The additional relief which the appellants now claim is essentially threefold. First, they seek a further declaration that the non-implementation of the Act has breached their fundamental right to "the protection of the law" under section 4(b) of the Constitution. Secondly, by way of "redress" pursuant to section 14 of the Constitution, they seek damages for the section 4(b) breach and invite the Board so to order and to remit the quantification of this claim to the High Court for hearing. Thirdly, they complain that, despite the Board's order of 15 October 2007, much still remains to be done in the way of establishing a Commission and a Tribunal before the Act can take effect. Whilst not going so far as to contend that the government has failed to act consistently with the Board's declaration, they ask for a specific order that they have leave to apply to the High Court at some future date if so advised and they ask the Board to declare that upon any such application the High Court would have the jurisdiction to make coercive orders against the government.

4

It is convenient to deal first with this third head of relief which the Board can do very shortly. Just three weeks after the Board's judgment was given on 15 October 2007 a general election was held in Trinidad and Tobago. Although no one could suggest that since then the government has exactly rushed to implement the Act, the Board are not persuaded that it has been dragging its feet. Their Lordships have been provided both with a report from the Solicitor-General fully explaining the position up to 21 April 2008 when a new Commission chairman and four Commissioners were sworn in, and at which time the Judicial and Legal Service Commission was in the process of appointing the Tribunal members, and also, during the course of the hearing on 10 June 2008, with an affidavit sworn that day by the permanent secretary to the Attorney-General's Ministry detailing the staged processes by which staff are to be appointed and suitable accommodation provided both for the Commission and the Tribunal, including a timetable of the further steps necessary up until October 2008. The Board do not envisage any need for further proceedings to hasten the final implementation of the Act but plainly nothing could prevent the appellants, if so advised, from instituting a fresh motion in the High Court. There is no occasion for the Board to make any order in this regard and in their Lordships' view nothing could be more inappropriate than that,...

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