By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold a ruling by former Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett in a constitutional dispute between the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and a Muslim officer who refused to participate in a Christian prayer service will be challenged in the country’s highest court, London’s Privy Council.
In a hearing yesterday before Justices Jon Isaacs, Stella Crane-Scott and Roy Jones, “final leave” to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was sought by Crown representatives concerning the July 2014 decision of the appellate court which upheld Sir Michael’s decision by a vote of two to one.
The court, in the circumstances, granted leave to appeal the decision which favoured former officer Gregory Laramore over the RBDF.
Laramore converted to the nation of Islam nearly two decades ago. He filed a civil suit against the RBDF for breaching his freedom of religion when he was disciplined for stepping out of morning and evening colours parades during a Christian prayer service.
The service took place on April 25, 2007, when Mr Laramore was a petty officer. He said he was dismissed from the force later that year.
Crown attorneys argued that the release was not until three years later. They also noted that the Defence Force issued a temporary memorandum in 1993 allowing those of faiths other than Christianity to fall out of line during ceremonial prayers.
They also submitted that the memorandum was no longer in effect as of 2006, when the new Commodore issued a new memorandum revoking that clause and ordering that all persons be required to stand in line.
The disputed incident took place in 2007, a year after the change.
The Crown said that the plaintiff was not required to recite the prayers during the parade, only to remain there as the parade was a formation exercise. In April 2013, Sir Michael awarded the officer $10,000 in damages for a breach of his rights.
“The plaintiff was required to suffer indignity and costs of disciplinary proceedings for standing up for his constitutional rights,” the chief justice said in his 2013 ruling.
“He is, in my judgement, entitled to an award of damages to compensate him for that infringement. I award him the sum of $10,000 as damages for the breach of his constitutional rights.”
In a written judgement posted on the Court of Appeal’s website in July 2014, then Justice’s Abdullah Conteh and Justice Stanley John both upheld Sir Michael’s judgement.
“I am convinced and satisfied that the judgement of the learned chief justice, including the award to the respondent, is otherwise eminently sustainable and in accordance with the evidence in the case and the Constitution of the Bahamas,” Justice Conteh said.
“The appeal is accordingly dismissed with the costs awarded to the respondent to be taxed, if not agreed.”
However, in her written judgement, the appellate court’s president, Dame Justice Anita Allen, said she could not come to the same conclusion.
“I am of the view that the decision does not interpret the Constitution as it stands but rather follows a line of authority not based on Constitutions similarly structured,” she noted.
“It is not denied that the respondent sincerely held the Muslim belief and that he did so from 1993 to at least until he retired in 2007. Moreover, morning and evening colours were held twice a week and that portion of the parades which included prayer, was of minimal duration.
“It seems to me that while standing in formation, the respondent had the opportunity to pray to his God and (maintain) his religion and in between colour parades, he had more than reasonable opportunity to worship, practice and observe his belief at HMBS, or at his home, or mosque and to manifest and propagate his religion as and when he saw fit.”
“For this reason, I would allow the appeal, quash the declaration and award of damages granted by the learned chief justice,” Justice Allen noted.