CCJ denies Berbice man’s bid for adverse possession of land

The bid of a Berbice resident to get legal ownership of a piece of land he had occupied for years failed last month when the judges in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) upheld the decision of the Guyana courts and dismissed his claim for adverse possession.

The man, Jafarally Ali, first approached the High Court for possession of Sub-lot 13 of the North Half of Lot D, Number 78 Village, Springlands, Berbice, but on March, 18, 2010 Justice Ramlall dismissed his claim. Ali appealed the ruling but this too was dismissed on March 23, 2012. He then moved to the CCJ and once again failed when the Caribbean court ruled against him on May 15.

Named as respondents in the case were John Choong, substituted for Andrew P Choong who died during the proceedings; Razeeka Sankat, who purchased the piece of land; and the Registrar of Deeds of Guyana. Attorneys Rajendra Poonai and Parmanand Mohanlall appeared for Ali while attorneys Roopnarine Satram and C V Satram appeared for Choong and Sankat. The registry did not enter appearance.

According to the ruling, the disputed land was transported to John Gilbert Choong by Transport No. 694 of 1950 and after his death in 1980, his widow, Norma Choong, vested the disputed land by transport in favour of Andrew Peter Choong in 2003. Choong was alive when these proceedings began but he died in 2009 after he had filed an affidavit in the proceedings, and John Choong substituted for him. While Sankat bought the land no transport in respect of the sale has been issued.

In his affidavit, Ali claimed that Basil Lochan Ramnarine became a yearly tenant of John Gilbert Choong in 1965, but ceased paying rent in 1974 or in 1981 ‒ his dates varied between his statement of claim and the evidence he gave under cross-examination. Ramnarine had erected a building on the land in 1965 and at Ramnarine’s invitation Ali in 1981 went to live in the building on the disputed land rent free. He claimed that, as a licensee of Ramnarine he continued the adverse possession of Ramnarine until John Gilbert Choong’s title was extinguished.  Ali also stated that he purchased the building from Ramnarine for US$12,000 on September 5, 2000 and believed that he had acquired both the building and the possessory title for the land. However, a letter produced in court written by Ramnarine to Andrew Peter Choong dated November 13, 1999 stated that he had promised a niece first option, and she was willing to purchase the piece of land if Choong decided to sell. Ramnarine also indicated that he was sending the rent money via Western Union, since he had by then migrated to the US, and Andrew Peter Choong later in a sworn affidavit said he received $22,199 for rental from 1999 to 2000. Ali objected to the letter, but John Choong said he knew the relationship between Ramnarine and Peter Choong was one of tenant and landlord. According to the ruling, another document that was “fatal” to Ali’s claim was the agreement of sale he had with Ramnarine, and he testified that before the September 5, 2000 date of the sale he did not believe that he was the owner of the land. But later he testified that he purchased the land even though he believed he owned it, but he did not want anyone to say he robbed Ramnarine since his wife was related to Ramnarine’s mother-in-law.

Justice Ramlall in his ruling stated that “…Mr Ali during the course of giving his evidence was very evasive and shifty in answering questions under cross-examination. He took cover several times under the overused excuse of not being able to remember, not having his spectacles to read exhibits (his own ones) and when he got his spectacles he then resorted to not being able to read so well since he did not go to school far.

“His general demeanour has given me the [distinct impression] that he was being far less than truthful in his evidence.” The CCJ said that in the light of those findings of fact as to Ali’s adverse possession and Justice Ramlall’s assessment of his credibility he rightfully rejected his evidence. As such the CCJ comprising Justices Rolston Nelson, Desiree Bernard, Adrian Saunders, David Hayton and Winston Anderson affirmed the High Court ruling.

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