STEVENHILLS LTD v GAMBLING REGULATORY AUTHORITY (2018 SCJ 177) delivered by Hon. K.P. Matadeen, Chief Justice on 17 May 2018.
The issue raised in this matter was in respect to the discretionary power of the Gambling Regulatory Board vested upon it by the Gambling Regulatory Authority Act (the "Act"). It is to be noted that three similar applications were made to the court raising the same issue and all three applications were heard together and a single judgment was delivered by the Chief Justice, Honourable K.P. Matadeen.
The applicant in each of the three applications were bookmakers and accordingly licensees under the Act. The Chief Executive of the Gambling Regulatory Authority (the respondent in this matter) issued a letter dated 10 November 2015 to all three applicants (licensees) informing them of its decision to reduce the number of additional places of business outlets operated by them to a maximum of 10 as at the end of June 2016 and not to renew the licenses in respect of any surplus outlets.
However, this decision was based on a decision of the Government and the letter referred to above simply quoted the decision of the government.
The application for review was resisted at the leave stage and after hearing arguments, the Court granted leave for the review to proceed on its merits.
Decision of the court:
The court quashed the decision of the respondent.
The court referred to Section 96 and 100 of the Act which empowers the Gambling Regulatory Authority to issue licenses and to give directions to a licensee in relation to the conduct of their business under the Act. However, Sections 96 and 100 cannot be read independently as the exercise of that power is to be found under section 92 of the said Act which provides that the Minister may, under specific conditions, order the Board to limit the number of licences. Such an order shall be binding for such geographical area or for such period as may be specified in that order.
The issue before the court was "whether the respondent has properly exercised the discretion that the law has bestowed upon it or has acted under dictation and thus fettered its discretion".
The court also referred to Section 7 (3) of the Act which provides that the Minister may, in relation to the exercise by the Gambling Regulatory Board of any of its powers under this Act, give such directions of a general character to the Board as the Minister considers necessary in the public interest. On the basis of Section 7 (3) of the Act, the Court held that "the decision of the Government as conveyed in the above-quoted letter is certainly of a different character. Otherwise, there would have been no need for section 92".
Moreover, the court concluded that the respondent did not exercise independent judgment while exercising its discretion when deciding to reduce the number of additional places of business outlets and not to review the licenses in respect of any surplus outlets. The court was of the view that the express language of the letter of 10 November 2015 was clearly indicative of the fact that the decision was not that of the respondent. The latter was simply the mouthpiece of the Government which in fact took the decision and had surrendered the discretion vested in it by law to the Government. The court admitted that the Minister may decide to limit the number of licenses when considerations of public interests so require, but that does not absolve the respondent of exercising his own judgment.
This decision reminds all Statutory Bodies of their duty to exercise their own judgment and not act under dictation.
Appleby appeared for the applicant Stevenhills Ltd and was represented by Yahia Nazroo.
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