The Antigua Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF) is headed back to the High Court with captain Javonson Willock, who this week filed an application for an interim injunction, asking the court to stop the force from taking a decision to downgrade his employment status.
The ABDF is seeking to rectify what they claim to be an “oversight” that allegedly kept Willock in a permanent position for seven years. As a corrective measure, they are urging the Governor General to issue him a short-term contract. However, Willock is concerned that such a move could jeopardize his pension and overall income.
A year after facing disciplinary charges over allegations of misconduct, on March 25, 2022, Willock was called into a meeting where he was informed that there had been an oversight with his commission scroll. According to documents filed by Willock, he immediately made several attempts to inform the authorities that changing the status of his employment would amount to “constructive dismissal.”
However, Willock said he received no response until around November 24, 2023, when he was notified that he would be issued with a short-term contract. In his application to the court, Willock highlighted that he would have to surrender his commission instrument, which appointed him as a captain since February 2015, the same time he claims to have been offered permanent employment.
Although it is not clear for how long the short-term commission would be, with four years left until he is eligible for pension, Willock has taken the matter to court.
Willock, who is now also studying to become an attorney, has chosen to represent himself in the matter and has called the ABDF’s decision “unlawful” under the Defence Force Act and said it could lead to his premature dismissal which would cause him financial hardship.
The defence force captain argues that his permanent employment was lawfully granted, and any attempt to unilaterally change the terms of his commission after more than seven years as a captain, amounts to an unlawful attempt to constructively dismiss him.
Willock believes the ABDF’s recent decision is just another attempt to rid him from the Force after being unsuccessful in getting him to resign in 2020 amidst allegations of misconduct.
When contacted Colonel Telbert Benjamin, head of the Defence Force said Willock has the legal right to take his case to court and the ABDF will await the court’s ruling.
Misconduct Allegations Declared Null and Void
In September, the High Court ruled in favour of Willock, declaring allegations of misconduct against him null and void. He was accused of misconduct for fraternising with junior ranks and was instructed to resign.
Willock was asked to resign for reasons including that the Chief no longer trusted him and did not wish to work with him. Willock was also reportedly told that he would not be considered for any promotion and/or upgrades.
He was tried instantly by the ABDF, found guilty and was convicted on six disciplinary charges. Additionally, the Chief wrote a letter to the board insisting that it ask Willock to resign or to otherwise dismiss him. He was stripped of his responsibilities at work, disarmed of his service pistol, and had his cell phone confiscated.
However, after presenting his case before the court, the ABDF conceded that they were in error, leading the High Court to direct 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.
Additionally, the court ruled that Captain Willock is entitled to damages and costs, with a settlement expected no later than October 26, unless an agreement is reached sooner. Notably, no settlement has yet been made.