Acting Chief Justice, Roxane George SC, yesterday ordered that the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Inc (CJRCI) be allowed occupancy of historic Red House and the enjoyment of the status quo, until a full trial to determine its challenge to Government’s revocation of its lease.
The government had been seeking to oust the CJRCI from the location at the end of last year.
At an in-chamber hearing at the High Court yesterday morning, Justice George noted that the issues to be resolved in the case, could not be determined through interlocutory hearings.
To this end, the Chief Justice ruled that the status quo be preserved in the interim, thereby issuing an interlocutory conservatory order which the Government had previously undertaken to comply with.
On December 30 last, CJRCI secured an order from the court against the government’s revocation of its lease.
The conservatory order operated to freeze the government’s instruction that the High Street premises be vacated the very next day.
The order prevents and restrains the government and its agents from evicting the CJRCI or its agents from Red House on High Street, or in any manner whatsoever interfering with their occupation or peaceful and quiet enjoyment of the property, until the hearing and determination of the case, or until further order from the court.
Additionally, the order prevents the Government from removing any documents, photographs, artifacts, souvenirs, furniture, fixtures and fittings, appliances and/or any other movable property from the premises, until the matter has been heard or unless the court orders otherwise.
The plaintiff CJRCI was ordered to file its statement of claim within the next 21 days and directed the respondent Attorney General for the Government and the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys to file their response within 21 days thereafter.
The matter was ordered to take its normal course.
Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams SC, had previously argued during interlocutory hearings, that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case, and that the CJRCI’s claim should be dismissed and that they should be ejected from possession.
At a March 24 hearing, however, the court had ruled that it did have jurisdiction to hear the case. After that ruling, Williams had said it “in effect means that the president has no immunity.”
Williams at that time had reminded that it was the applicants who said they believed the revocation was ordered by President David Granger. He argued that if this was their belief, they ought not to have brought any civil proceedings against the president since he is a sitting president, and has performed an act pursuant to the functions of his office.
Williams had argued that a sitting president has immunity under Article 182 of the Constitution.
Noting the applicant’s lawsuit against the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, the AG had said that any action taken by that Commissioner is under the authority of the president.
According to Williams, to move against an act of the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys is to, therefore, move against the president “through the backdoor.”
The Government says that the lease between the CJRCI, and the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission is not valid.
Williams had argued that under Section 10 (1) of the Lands Department Act, chapter 59:01 “Government lands shall only be rented or sold with the sanction of the President and on the terms and conditions determined by him.”
Former President Donald Ramotar had previously said that while he was president, he authorized and sanctioned the issuance of the lease of Red House to the CJRCI.
In previous submissions to the acting chief justice, Williams contended that contrary to what the CJRCI had advanced, there is no evidence of formal approval or sanction by Ramotar at that time.
Williams said that on May 3, 2006, Ramotar, on behalf of the CJRCI made an application to the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys Commission for a Lease of the Red House lands. In 2010, he said that a resubmission of the application was made to the then Office of the President.
All matters relating to application for a lease, he said, are required to be sequentially recorded on note sheets in the case file. But noted that in the instant case, this was not done.
The AG went on to state, that on January 11, 2011, a further resubmission was made but there is no evidence of any sanction by then President Bharrat Jagdeo on the purported schedule—only those of Doorga Presaud, Commissioner of Lands and Surveys and the Land Administration Manager.
Williams had said that on March 30, 2012, however, a lease agreement was completed between Persaud, Commissioner of Lands and Surveys on behalf of the Government and Ralph Ramkarran SC, on behalf of the CJRCI.
According to the AG, non-sanction by the president renders the purported lease void from the outset and having no legal effect. He said it would therefore be incapable of constitutional protection, making the applicants, trespassers.
Williams argued also, that the lease fails to comply with the provisions of Sections 13(1)(2) and (3) of the Deeds Registry Act, Chapter 5:01 as regards it being for a term of 21 or more years.
According to the AG, the respective subsections of the Act provides that the lease must have been passed and executed in like manner of a transport filed as a record in the registry.
Meanwhile, in keeping with subsections (2) and (3), the law provides that the lease must be filed as a record in the registry and annotated by the Registrar. The AG said that the CJRCI has produced no evidence to substantiate that the purported lease was ever executed in accordance with the relevant provisions.
The state also submitted that the Applicants, without the express permission from the designated Minister cannot execute a lease of property declared to be National Monuments under Section 3(1) of National Trust Act, Chapter 20:03.
Williams had said that no such permission was ever given.
He said too, that no formal agreement assigning control of the property to Red House was given; though staff, utilities, repairing, renovating and restoring the Heritage building were paid for by the previous PPP/C administration without lawful approval. Former AG Anil Nandlall is representing the CJRCI.
Last year President Granger announced that the lease held by the Research Centre to the heritage building would be revoked.