Tucker appeal to Supreme Court fails

  • Gina Tucker

    Gina Tucker

A veteran Bermuda teacher and education administrator has lost her Supreme Court bid to have the appointment of the Commissioner of Education quashed.

Gina Tucker claimed that she had “not been fairly treated or properly considered” for the job, which was given to Kalmar Richards, a former principal of CedarBridge Academy, in 2018.

However, Assistant Justice John Riihilouma said that he was not convinced.

He said in a written judgment that the accepted test to determine bias was whether a fair-minded, reasonable, informed observer would conclude there “was a real bias on the part of the decision-maker”.

Dr Tucker said that her relationship with Valerie Robinson-James, the permanent secretary at the education ministry, had soured after a disagreement over a decision to offer the Commissioner of Education post to Paul Wagstaff, a British education expert, in 2016.

Mr Justice Riihilouma said that affidavit evidence from Curtis Dickinson, the former chairman of the Board of Education, Loren Wilson, the board’s former deputy chairman and Ms Robinson-James showed that Dr Tucker “verbally attacked the permanent secretary and Mr Wilson” after a 2016 lunch where Dr Tucker was told her bid for the job had been unsuccessful.

Mr Justice Riihilouma said: “The attack on the permanent secretary continued out into the street at the conclusion of the lunch.

“Mr Wilson, Mr Dickinson and the permanent secretary considered Dr Tucker’s behaviour an unfortunate overreaction to bad news and put it behind them.”

He said that Dr Tucker’s first affidavit said that Ms Robinson-James had treated her “coldly” after the meeting, but that this was denied by the permanent secretary who said in her affidavit that the two had resumed a “normal working relationship”.

Mr Justice Riihilouma added: “The permanent secretary exhibits e-mails from Dr Tucker with smiley-face salutations in support of her claim.

“Dr Tucker’s reply affidavit does not challenge this aspect of the permanent secretary’s affidavit.”

Dr Tucker said in her affidavit: “It is my view that the permanent secretary has orchestrated this entire matter.”

However, Mr Justice Riihilouma ruled: “Leaving aside the fact that the permanent secretary was not the decision-maker, I do not find that a reasonably well-informed person would conclude that there was a real possibility that the permanent secretary was biased based on the affidavit evidence of what transpired at the luncheon in June 2016 and what transpired after.”

Mr Justice Riihilouma said in his 19-page decision that Dr Tucker “did not raise bias as ground for impeaching Ms Richards’s appointment in her grounds for relief, nor did she amend her grounds for relief”.

He also disagreed that the legislation and regulations that governed the appointment of the Commissioner of Education had been breached by the Board of Education and the Public Service Commission.

Mr Justice Riihilouma said: “I can find no actionable fault in the process used by the Board of Education in its role in recommending Ms Richards to the Public Service Commission for the post of Commissioner of Education.

“It follows that I find there is no fault in the process that would vitiate the Public Service Commission’s recommendation of the appointment of Ms Richards as Commissioner of Education to the Governor.”

He added: “For the reasons set out above, I dismiss Dr Tucker’s application for judicial review.”

The civil case against the Public Service Commission and the Board of Education was filed in November 2018, two months after Ms Richards was appointed to the post after she had been acting commissioner for nine months.

Dr Tucker asked the court to quash Ms Richards’s appointment and an order made for the application process to be held “fairly and in accordance with the Education Act 1996 and the Public Service Commission Regulations 2001”, as well as costs.

To read the decision in full, click on the pdf under ‘related media’

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.

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