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THE HOYOS FILE: Former LOB agents: 2, Sagicor: 0

Patrick Hoyos

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The wheels of justice, stuck in a quagmire of intransigence and quasi-judicial bungling, finally turned last Tuesday in the case of two dozen former Life of Barbados (LOB) agents versus insurance giant Sagicor.
Seventeen months after the Severance Payments Tribunal’s hearing of the matter was concluded, the triumvirate delivered its ruling, in favour of the agents, who had already won their lawsuit in the same matter before the High Court.
Now, of course, those wheels will grind on, perhaps into the Court of Appeal, and maybe to the final stop at the Caribbean Court of Justice.
But true to form, the institution which delivers justice in this island had nothing to say about the cause of the delay, at the centre of which appeared to be the tribunal chairman Elson Gaskin, whose tenure expired as the hearings were closing. It took nearly a year-and-a-half for the Barbados justice system to find a way to swear him back in so he could deliver the panel’s ruling.
Perhaps Bibles were in short supply.
Last Tuesday, Mr Gaskin whisked by the group of agents, lawyers and media awaiting the start of the proceeding, and then refused to let the Press in, on the ground that the room was too small.
The ruling was not changed after it was discovered that most of the people on the list to be let in were not present.
There may come a time in Barbados when access to cases on which the public has a right to be informed cannot be arbitrarily given or withheld by judicial officials, but I am not holding my breath.
Mr Gaskin is unlikely to be remembered with fondness by those who, sent to his tribunal for monetary justice in compliance with the ruling delivered by the Chief Justice himself in a precedent-setting judgment, found themselves drifting, not like a slow boat to China, but like a mass of Sargasso seaweed cut loose from its normal wanderings across the North Atlantic Ocean and lazily slipping over the waves of the warm Caribbean Sea.
It took exactly four years – less one month – from the day of Sir David’s ruling to that of Mr Gaskin’s. To date, no one has offered any explanation why this was so – what urgent personal or national emergency could have intervened to make those in need of justice wait so long.
Or for their lawyers, Clement Lashley and Honor Chase of Equity Chambers, to have their repeated letters querying the delays ignored or barely acknowledged.
But I was told by someone at the tribunal’s sitting Tuesday that Mr Gaskin noted the media’s interest in the matter. Perhaps he expressed his gratitude to us for reminding him gently that he had a ruling to deliver (I like to think the best of people).
For former LOB agent Patrick Hill, who has proven to be a fearless champion of both his rights and those of the other agents involved, it was the second vindication through the courts after an unnecessarily long eight years from the date the case was filed in late 2003.
It may not be over yet, but Mr Hill and his cohorts have shown us that, no matter how many roadblocks are put in your way, you must see things through to the end, be it bitter or sweet.
For the family of the LOB agent who died before the verdict was given, it must have been a bit of both.