REPUBLIC OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL
Civil Appeal No. P-200 of 2014
THE MINISTER OF PLANNING AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
THE JOINT CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL FOR THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
Today the Appeal Court delivered its majority ruling upholding the decision of Justice Frank Seepersad on 14th July 2014 to order publication of the legal opinions on which the Ministry had been relying.
This case began in 2013, when the JCC sought a judicial review of the refusal of the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development to publish legal opinions which the Ministry claimed supported its Request for Proposals (RFP) process in the proposed development of Invaders’ Bay. The JCC contended that the RFP process was being conducted in breach of the Central Tenders Board Act, but the Ministry claimed to have legal advice that its actions conformed to the CTB Act. It was that advice which the Ministry refused to publish.
Today’s Appeal Court ruling was a significant one in that it gave greater weight to the mandatory ‘Public Interest Test’ under the Freedom of Information Act, as against the Ministry’s reasons for its refusal on the grounds of legal professional privilege. The previous practice allowed the State to have discretion as to whether legal advice can be released. Had that practice been upheld at the Appeal we would have been facing a future in which any questionable project or policy could be concealed behind the screen of legal professional privilege. This ruling therefore significantly fortifies the Public Interest.
I now expect swift publication of the formal instructions and legal opinions on which the Ministry was relying in this highly-questionable matter. What is more, substantial sums of Public Money were spent in efforts to conceal these details and I am therefore taking the opportunity to ask for the details of those payments of legal fees to now be published – How much Public Money was spent on legal fees and to exactly whom did those monies go?
Another important aspect of this matter is that the Ministry’s official reason for its refusal to publish was changed during the litigation to legal professional privilege, but in this ruling the Court did not condone that change.