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Police officer loses legal action over promotion refusal

Detective Sergeant David Bhagwan (File photograph)

A police officer who took legal action after he was passed over for promotion three years ago yesterday had his case dismissed by the Supreme Court.

A plea by Detective Sergeant David Bhagwan for the court to quash a decision by the 2018 sergeant to inspector panel was dismissed in a judgment by Chief Justice Narinder Hargun.

Mr Bhagwan also alleged bias by the interview panel and asked for a declaration that the promotions panel and the Commissioner of Police had acted beyond their authority.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Martin Weekes told the court in an affidavit that police promotions were not automatic but based on merit and operational needs.

Mr Weekes said that he had volunteered to lead a group tasked with revisions to the promotions process in 2017.

The plaintiff was also a member of the working group.

Mr Bhagwan was told in September 2018 that he had fallen short of the 60 per cent pass grade in the examination for promotion – but that assessors were impressed with his performance and track record.

Mr Bhagwan complained that the process had been flawed and Mr Weekes should have recused himself on the basis of an appearance of bias against him and against Caribbean police officers.

But Mr Justice Hargun did not agree with Mr Bhagwan’s argument that the panel failed to remind him he was entitled to an observer from the Bermuda Police Association during the promotion process – in part, because Mr Bhagwan had been part of the working group that drew up the new policy.

The Chief Justice also highlighted that the appearance of personal bias dated to a 2007 incident which Mr Bhagwan had not flagged up until 11 years later.

Mr Justice Hargun added Mr Bhagwan was given time, but had not objected to Mr Weekes’ membership of the promotions panel.

He rejected the appearance of bias on the part of Mr Weekes and wrote that a fair-minded observer would not conclude that there was “real possibility” of anti-Caribbean bias.

Mr Justice Hargun accepted Mr Weekes’ evidence that “all candidates were given exactly the same opportunities to answer questions, including follow up questions and probing questions from the panel”.

Mr Justice Hargun added that, in allegations of appearance of bias, applicants should file their objection “at the earliest opportunity”.

The Chief Justice accepted that the decisions of the promotion panel could be subject to judicial review, but ruled that there had been no breach of fairness or the 2018 policy.

Darrin Simons, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, said last night it was “always regrettable, given the often longstanding relationships involved, that internal matters such as these are not resolved in lieu of legal action”.

Mr Simons added: “That notwithstanding, we recognise that court resolution remains every citizen’s right and we welcome the Chief Justice’s decision.

“We will look for learning in this matter as we continue to improve our processes.”

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