Former hospital chairman gets damages, his attorney disappointed

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Attorney Justin Simon QC said he is disappointed over the amount of damages granted by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) of Appeal to his client, Milton Pringle, who had been unfairly dismissed from his post as Chairman of the Mount St John’s Medical Centre (MSJMC) Board when the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) administration took office in 2014.
He explained that the $45,000 granted to Pringle does not show the Court’s displeasure “with the minister’s arbitrary behaviour, which was clearly politically motivated”.
The former attorney general said the court needed to send a stronger message because “unless and until such unconstitutional actions are punished, politicians on both sides of the divide will continue to act as though they are unanswerable to the law and are dutybound to exhibit proper behaviour. I guess at the end of the day it’s the taxpayer who pays the price.”
This decision on the damages comes four months after they ruled his dismissal unfair. He was also granted prescribed costs that were incurred when he first challenged his dismissal in the High Court, and two-thirds the costs on appeal. The amount of damages was determined based on the number of months left on Pringle’s contract at the time he was sent home. His contract was due to expire on March 31, 2015 while he was sent home on June 30, 2014.
According to the appellate court’s decision, the Mount St John’s Medical Centre Act, 2009 does not support, and is inconsistent with any suggestion that the Chairman of the Board has to demit office upon a change of government. Pringle was sent packing just weeks after the June 12, 2014 general elections. He had performed his duties faithfully until the end of that month when his physical and security access and computer credentials were revoked with immediate effect.
The appellate court said, given these circumstances, it cannot be said that the appellant had abandoned his office, but rather pointed to a constructive revocation of his appointment. Therefore, the judges found that the High Court trial judge erred in law in holding that Pringle had abandoned his post.
“The Act clearly provides for the tenure of the Chairman – not less than three or more than five years; it provides eligibility for reappointment; it provides the manner in which the Chairman is to resign, and specifies the circumstances under which the appointment can be revoked,” the appellate court said.
The judges added, “The framers of the Mount St John’s Medical Centre Act, 2009 clearly spelt out that resignation by the Chairman of the Board is effected by instrument in writing addressed to the Minister. The appellant never communicated to the minister his intention to resign. There is no evidence which refutes the appellant’s claim that he did not write or tender a resignation letter to the minister.”
The court noted that while it is true that in the emails between Pringle and Camacho, Pringle had initially expressed an intention to resign and had encouraged members of the Board to do so, it is clear that upon apprising himself of the law and upon seeking legal advice, he had changed his position.
The adjudicators said that evincing an intention to resign could not be translated into a resignation. Queen’s Counsel Simon said there are three other MSJMC Board members who never submitted their resignation letters but were replaced. He said that following the court decision, they too would be paid for the same period as Pringle.

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