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Wrongfully Detained at a Psych Ward, Trinidadian Cheryl Miller Gets Justice

Judge's Gavel; image by Rumble Press, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Judge's Gavel; image by Rumble Press, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Just over two years ago, Cheryl Miller, an employee of Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development, got into a heated argument with one of her seniors. The next thing she knew, she was being carted off to St. Ann's Psychiatric Hospital, despite her protests that she was “not mad”. At the time, the incident caused outrage in the blogosphere, with many concerned about the cavalier way in which fundamental human rights could be trampled upon — and “just how vulnerable we are to the whims and fancy of any state body that wishes to abuse its power”.

After Miller was eventually released, she wasted no time in filing a lawsuit against unlawful imprisonment. Last week, the judge passed her ruling in the case: Miller is to be awarded TT $835,000 (just over US $130,000) in damages. The social media reaction was swift. On Facebook, Rhoda Bharath commented:

One of the greatest acts of bullying executed by members of the public service with the oversight of the line Minister.
I done talk.

She continued:

Truly annoyed that we had to pay for Verna and her Perm Sec fucking up.
Really annoyed by that.
Always the electorate pays for the bullshit actions of the govt.
That $800k should have come directly from their pockets for their stupid, inhumane, bullying behaviour.

Another Facebook user, Tanya Carr, was confused as to how the four other defendants cited in Miller's lawsuit — the attorney general, the permanent secretary and deputy permanent secretary of the ministry in which she worked, and the former Minister of Gender Affairs, Youth and Child Development Verna St Rose-Greaves — were found by the judge to be not culpable:

How exactly were the Minister, AG,PS and DPS not found liable in this case? When they orchrstrated [sic] this mess?

Diaspora blogger Jumbie's Watch was also confused as to how Minister St. Rose-Greaves was spared, since he remembers her publicly accepting responsibility. This notwithstanding, he called the judgment “a victory for the Rule of Law“.

The crux of Miller's case revolved around Section 15 of Trinidad and Tobago's Mental Health Act, which states that “a person found wandering at large on a highway or in any public place and who by reason of his appearance, conduct or conversation, a mental health officer has reason to believe is mentally ill and in need of care and treatment in a psychiatric hospital or ward may be taken into custody and conveyed to such hospital or ward for admission for observation in accordance with this section.” The presiding judge deemed Miller's admission to St. Ann's unlawful, as the offices of the ministry could not be considered a public space. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health, which was found to be liable, intends to file an appeal.

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