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Gov’t wins appeal in decision to deny medical school license

by: - May 15, 2018
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Dr. Curvin Ferreira (right) receiving the Sisserou Award of Honour from President Savarin in November 2016 (file photo)

The Minister of Education’s decision to deny Global Education Providers Inc. with a license to operate a medical school in Dominica has been upheld by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal was asked to determine whether the learned judge erred in concluding that the Minister acted within section 96(g) of the Education Act in refusing permission to Global Education Providers Inc. and whether the Minister took into account irrelevant factors and acted ultra vires the Act in refusing permission.

Global Education Providers Inc. is owned by gynecologist Dr Curvin Ferreira.

The court dismissed the appeal on 4 May 2018 and made no order as to costs. The seventeen-page long judgement was written by Justice Louise Esther Blenman with Justices Davidson Kelvin Baptiste and Gertel Thom concurring.

The judgement of the Court is as follows;

“1. The literal rule stipulates that in interpreting or construing an Act of Parliament, if the words are in themselves precise and unambiguous then no more can be necessary than to expound those words in their natural and ordinary sense. The words whose meaning is being ascertained must be read in the context of the whole statute. The words are not to be read in isolation of colour and context.

AG v Prince Ernest Augustus of Hanover [1957] AC 436 applied; The Sussex Peerage (1844) 8 ER 1034 applied; Re: Bidie (deceased); Bidie v General Accident, Fire and Life Assurance Corporation Ltd [1948]

2. The relevant statutory provisions are clear and straight forward. The scheme of the Act is that the Minister, in deciding whether to grant permission, can properly have regard to all “material resources”. There is nothing in section 96(g) of the Act which mandated the Minister to only take into account material resources in the United States of America to which Global had access. Thus, in determining the meaning of “material resources” in section 96(g), there is no basis for reading into the section words that would restrict it to material resources overseas to which Global had access. Neither was the Minister precluded from taking into account the availability or otherwise of the resources of the State to supplement those resources.

3. There can be no proper contention that the Minister took into account irrelevant matters or that he acted unreasonably in arriving at his decision. It would also be impossible to establish illegality or irrationality on the part of the Minister for doing precisely what he was enjoined to do, within the confines of section 96(g) of the Act. Thus, the learned judge did not err in the conclusions at which he arrived”.

Global Education Providers Inc was represented by Dwight Horsford while the Minister for Education, Ministry of Education and the Attorney General were represented by Tameka Burton and Arthlyn Nesty.

Background

Global Education Providers Inc., a company incorporated in the Commonwealth of Dominica, applied to the Government for permission to establish a medical school in Dominica.

The Minister of Education rejected the application on the basis that he was not satisfied that Global would have the adequate material resources for dispensing the requisite educational training. By letter dated 10 August 2010, the Minister communicated the refusal of the application to Global.

As a consequence of the Minister’s refusal, Global obtained leave and issued judicial review proceedings against the Minister’s decision on the bases that the Minister acted ultra vires the Education Act (the “Act”) and that his decision was illegal, irrational and unreasonable.

Before the learned judge, the Attorney General and the Minister submitted that it was within the Minister’s purview to have regard to all of the material resources that were available and to not only consider Global’s material resources which could have been accessed in the United States of America. The Minister, in his affidavit, deposed that the refusal was taken in light of evidence that Dominica could not appropriately accommodate more than two medical schools as the State’s resources were already stretched.

The learned judge dismissed Global’s claim and found that the decision to refuse a license could have reasonably been arrived at by the Minister taking into account section 96 of the Act, which deals with the requirements for registration.

Global, being dissatisfied with the learned judge’s decision, appealed. The thrust of Global’s argument was that the Minister was only entitled to pay regard to the material resources of Global in the exercise of his discretion under section 96(g) of the Act and that insofar as he purported to take into account the ability of the State to contribute to the material resources or provide facilities to the students, the Minister took into account irrelevant matters and acted improperly or ultra vires the Act.

Global submitted that the Minister incorrectly and broadly interpreted the term “material resources” in section 96(g) of the Act to mean material resources generally to include the State’s resources. In response, the Minister and the Attorney General said that section 96(g) of the Act should not be given a limited interpretation and it was quite proper for the Minister to take into account whether the State had available material resources to supplement the resources overseas to which Global had access.

Accordingly, the main issue on appeal was: whether the learned judge erred in concluding that the Minister acted within section 96(g) of the Act in refusing the application. Importantly, the statutory interpretation of section 96(g) of the Act was brought into focus.

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