Hope NDC’s legal challenge to seizure of computers thrown out over missed timelines

The action filed against the state over the seizure of 15 computers from the Enmore/ Hope Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) earlier this year was thrown out by a judge last Monday after the claimants failed to adhere to timelines set by the court for filing statements.

High Court Judge Priya Sewnarine-Beharry dismissed the action, noting that the applicant had failed to comply with case management conference orders she would have set to be followed.

On September 21, the court set out its timetable, which specified the time by which certain documents were to be submitted to the court.

At an October 30 hearing, the court noted that there were no reasons/circumstances set out in the affidavit why it would have been impractical for it to enforce the timelines earlier agreed to by the parties.

The case management document shows that the respondent (the state) failed to serve on the claimants certain documents in accordance with the timetable also.

The court dismissed the case in accordance with part 25:04 (3) of the Civil Procedure Rules.

It provides, “If a party fails to comply with a timetable, the case management judge may, on his or her own initiative or on an application by any other party, (a) stay the party’s proceeding; (b) dismiss the party’s proceeding or strike out the party’s Defence; (c) award costs against a party; or (d) make such other order as is just.”

The case concerned the controversial seizure of the computers by the eGovernment Unit in early April after reports that the systems were going to be sold.

Acting Chairman of the Enmore/Hope NDC Mohammed Dawud had, however, said that no decision had been made to sell the computers.

The workstations were removed during a visit by the eGovernment Unit of the Ministry of Public Telecommunications, accompanied by officers from the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU).

The NDC had taken issue with SARU ‘s removal of the computers, stating that it had no authority to interfere in the decisions of the council, which it noted was an autonomous, legally elected body independent of the government and was, therefore, legally authorised to make its own decisions.

The Ministry of Public Telecommunications, on the other hand, in a statement, maintained that the computers, donated by Basic Needs Trust Fund, were regarded as state property and therefore could not be sold.

The opposition PPP, in a statement after the seizure, had said that the equipment was owned by the Community Resource Centre, a non-governmental organisation established by the residents of Enmore, which used the equipment to hold classes in the upper flat of the NDC building for young people of the community.

Officials of SARU along with employees from the eGovernment Project Execution unit had effected the seizure after learning of a plan to sell the computers.

The evidence, it was stated, was in the documented minutes of a December 21, 2016 meeting, which were signed by the NDC’s Chairman, and showed a decision to sell the computers.

APNU+AFC Councillor on the NDC, Deochan Singh, produced a copy of the meeting’s minutes to substantiate that a decision was indeed taken to sell the computers. He had said that the council members voted on the suggestion to sell the computers, which were donated to the NDC by the Caribbean Development Bank-funded Basic Needs Trust Fund, to Dawud. “The council put it to him that he should look at the computers for the purchase and he decided to buy it,” Singh had told Stabroek News.

Nandlall, a former Attorney General under the PPP, had initiated the legal proceedings after SARU seized the computers.

In its statement of claim, the NDC was seeking damages in excess of one million dollars for trespass; damages in excess of one million dollars for what it said was the “unlawful” seizure and “confiscation of the computers, along with backup power packs and damages in excess of one million dollars for the “unlawful detention of the computers.”

Additionally, the claimants were also seeking damages in excess of $1M, for “conversion” of a quantity of desktop computer systems. In the same amount, they were seeking aggravated and exemplary damages.

In addition to hoping that it would be awarded cost and other reliefs the court would have deemed as being just, the NDC was also seeking an order directing the state to return the computers.

The NDC’s case was presented by attorney Rajendra Jaigobin, while the state/ Attorney General, SARU Chief Executive Aubrey Heath-Retemyer and SARU Director Clive Thomas, were represented by attorney Coleen Liverpool.

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