Captain Javonson Willock, a senior officer in the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF), has won a ruling in his favour from the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda.
The court declared allegations of misconduct against him null and void. In December 2020, Willock was accused of misconduct for fraternizing with junior ranks.
He was instructed to resign, which would have ended his employment with the ABDF. Willock applied to the court to stop the Chief of Defence Staff, Colonel Telbert Benjamin, from forcing him to resign.
Through his lawyer Wendell Robinson, he argued that the instruction was not legally permitted, ultra vires (beyond the chief’s legal authority), and a breach of natural justice, statutory procedure, and Willock’s legitimate expectation.
Willock was determined to get a fair trial. On Wednesday, the ABDF conceded that they were in error.
The High Court directed the Chief of Defence Staff to remove the letter of reprimand from Willock’s file and handle the matter in compliance with the Defence Act of 2006, along with its amendments and statutory regulations.
Captain Willock is entitled to damages and costs, with a settlement expected no later than October 26, unless an agreement is reached sooner.
The legal battle centred around events that occurred in late 2020 and early 2021. On December 23 2020, Willock was questioned by the then Vice Chief of Defence Staff (VCDS) Lieutenant Colonel Trevor Pennyfeather on behalf of the Chief.
After an investigation on March 24, 2021, Willock was asked to resign, with the Chief citing that he no longer trusted Willock and did not wish to work with him. Willock was given ten days to submit his resignation.
Willock’s lawyer pointed out that no concrete evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct had been presented to Captain Willock throughout the investigation and at the time of the resignation request.
Moreover, the Chief refused to disclose evidence he purportedly had against Willock. Willock concluded that this instruction to resign was against the Rules of Procedure outlined in the Defence (Amendment) Act 2012.
He also argued that the Defence Board was the only authority that had the power to instruct him to resign, and he requested a fair hearing under the act. He was later served with six disciplinary charges, tried instantly, found guilty, and convicted on all counts.
The Chief wrote a letter to the board insisting that it ask Willock to resign or dismiss him. Willock’s lawyer alleged that his client had been subjected to harassment by the Chief, who made multiple visits to his home, demanding his resignation.
These actions had severe consequences for Willock, who saw the convictions on his record used to deny him promotional opportunities and other benefits.
Robinson also pointed out that Willock was stripped of his responsibilities at work, disarmed of his service pistol, and had his cell phone confiscated.
He also noted that Willock had faced those disciplinary charges alone, while a more senior officer was implicated under the same circumstances, which was unfair, unlawful, and unconstitutional.