In 2013, former Dean of the University of Belize, Abigail McKay filed a claim in the courts suing the University, its president, provost and the Human Resource Director. McKay’s contract was not renewed or extended but she insisted that the UB’s Faculty and Staff Handbook provided for her contract to be extended by at least two years. She claims that the University’s Board of Trustees unlawfully rejected this notion. McKay first sought the court’s permission for judicial review on the matter which was granted by Justice Courtenay Abel. The case was taken all the way to the Court of Appeal which today overturned Justice Abel’s ruling. Senior Counsel, Denys Barrow, represented the University of Belize.
“The decision which was reversed was that the Claimant could have brought or carried forward a claim for judicial review which was to challenge the decision which she says the university made. Our argument was that the university did not make any decision and the court of appeal in effect upheld that there was not any decision made by the university to terminate or to do anything. She signed for a three year contract and that was the end of it. If she had any basis for claiming that they ought to have given her a performance review that was a claim in contract and not a claim for judicial review. The university took the point in the high court that that was a wrong claim to bring that she had a contract for three years, if she was dissatisfied with that she should not have made a three year contract. She insisted that she had a right, although the contract doesn’t say so, to a two year extension. Unfortunately, the judge, he went out of his way, as the Court of Appeal found, to help her along but it was an erroneous move that the judge made. So, the Court of Appeal has struck down the decision and said that the claim ought never to have been brought in this fashion.”
Attorney for McKay, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, told reporters that she has to consult her client who has to decide whether or not she wants to proceed with the matter.
“It’s a very important case not only for my client but for what it means. While the panel of judges has reserved their decision until a further date, the implication of it is several. One, they are saying that the application would have been best grounded in contract but (2) it brings into question now, the fact as to the validity of the staff and faculty hand book of the university which is what many of the people rely on because they are saying it has no force because it has never been brought in by statute. Although I argue that there are cases that show that not everything is by statute, that there are legitimate expectation clearly if you were in there you were seeing that the judge especially Justice Blackman was absolutely not for it; he made a clear cut distinction between the contract and judicial review so at the end of the day they are not saying that she doesn’t have a claim they are just saying don’t bring it in public law, bring it into private law which is contract. In reality the contract did stipulate that she was entitled to an additional two years, she grounded that on the fact that by the policy it was a mandatory five years that Deans should have and so this should be a warning to all Deans out there, anybody who gets hired by the university to go and read the handbook and make sure that they incorporate the provisions of the handbook in their contract or to get better provisions than what is in the handbook. In terms of whether she would want to pursue further that is a matter where we as attorneys get instruction from the clients.”
The Court of Appeal will hand down its judgment in writing on a later date.