CCJ scolds Appeal Court over 4-year delay in ‘urgent’ hearings

The Guyana Court of Appeal has come in for a reprimand by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for not following instructions given to it more than four years ago to urgently hear motions filed by the Blairmont Rice Investment Inc. and the Kayman Sankar Group of Companies.

“It is was very difficult to understand how this can be possible or justifiable in any proper legal system,” Justice David Hayton said in the judgment that was delivered yesterday on an application by Blairmont Rice, which sought to have the matter sent back to the High Court for a fresh trial instead of an appeal of the 2012 ruling of former acting Chief Justice Ian Chang.

On December 21, 2006 Blairmont Rice entered into agreements with the Sankar Group for the purchase of interest in certain rice lands, equipment and buildings. Upon signing the agreements, it made an initial payment for the assets acquired.

It was agreed between the parties, that Blairmont Rice would pay the outstanding balance at half-yearly intervals, with an express term that the Sankar Group had the right to repossess the properties once the purchasers failed to honour their financial obligations.

However, it failed to make the required payments and the Sankar Group subsequently repudiated the agreements in January of 2011, and began seeking to repossess its properties.

Three months later, it commenced proceedings in the High Court against Blairmont Rice and on March 29, 2012, Justice Chang ruled that the agreements had been rescinded for breach by the rice company and consequently ordered the Sankar Group to pay Blairmont Rice “by way of restitution, the sum of $232,277,108 for the return of ownership and vacant possession of all properties, movable and immovable, subject of the agreements between them.”

The judge had further ordered Blairmont Rice to immediately hand over to the Sankar Group all its properties after the restitution would have been paid.

The former chief justice then dismissed a counterclaim Blairmont Rice had filed, and awarded Sankar Group costs in the sum of $40,000.

On April 17, 2012, Blairmont Rice filed an appeal in the Court of Appeal, simultaneously seeking a stay of the orders made by Justice Chang. On May 15 of that year, Justice of Appeal Yonette Cummings-Edwards granted the stay, which she ordered to last until the determination of the substantive appeal.

Later that month, the Sankar Group filed a motion, seeking to set the stay aside. The CCJ noted that after all these years, this motion has not been heard. On July 3, 2013 Blairmont Rice filed a motion seeking an order that the Sankar Group vacate the properties, on the basis that they were “forcibly and brutally evicted by them in the wee hours of May 12, 2013.”

But by a majority, the Court of Appeal held that it had no jurisdiction to hear the motion and so dismissed it on July 30 2013.

Unsatisfactory

Blairmont subsequently appealed to the CCJ and, after hearing counsel on both sides, the CCJ, on August 13, 2013 issued an order by consent, remitting to the Appeal Court, for urgent hearing on their merits, the motions of both Blairmont Rice and the Sankar Group.

The CCJ directed that “the hearing of the notices of motion be deemed fit for urgent hearing by the Court of Appeal.” The Trinidad-based court yesterday noted with shock, however, that the motions are yet to be heard.

Justice Hayton said that the CCJ has no evidence before it as to this most “unsatisfactory state of affairs.” However, he added that whatever explanation may be proffered as to the difficulties in providing a panel of three judges to hear the appeals, be it judges who recused themselves or who retired without being replaced for some time, “we do not think that it could justify a delay of more than four years.”

Noting the more than five years now that has elapsed since Blairmont filed its appeal, the court asserted it was clear that the substantive appeal needs to be heard “as expeditiously as possible.”

Reminding the Guyana Court of Appeal that it is its final Court of Appeal, the CCJ declared that it has an implied duty and power to monitor compliance with its orders to ensure that justice is done in accordance with its decisions.

It was against this backdrop, that the CCJ has now ordered the Registrar of the Guyana Court of Appeal to notify it, no later than December 21, 2017 of a date for the hearing of the appeal filed by Blairmont Rice.

Rejected

The CCJ yesterday also delivered an oral ruling via videoconferencing rejecting the application made by Blairmont Rice seeking special leave under section 8 of the CCJ Act to appeal an order of the Court of Appeal dated July 6, 2017, that due to the absence of written reasons for Justice Chang’s decision, the matter be remitted to the High Court, with directions that an early trial be concluded in the shortest possible time.

Justice Hayton said that Blairmont Rice’s application for special leave was rejected because its motion of February 9, 2017 actually sought to progress a substantive appeal by having the Court of Appeal hear it in the light of the availability of the pleadings, exhibits, affidavits, the trial judge’s notes of evidence and his detailed order, all without any written reasons for his decision, which they have complained of and given in the first place, as a reason for the matter going back to the High Court for a new trial.

The court notes that having elected to progress matters so as to have the Court of Appeal hear its substantive appeal, Blairmont Rice’s counsel cannot now disavow the course he sought and instead seek to have the case sent back to the High Court for a fresh trial.

Justice Chang retired last year without providing any written reasons for his decision.

Apart from refusing Blairmont Rice special leave to appeal, the court awarded the Sankar Group costs, which have to be borne by the rice investment company, in accordance with its courts basic cost scale.

The CCJ hearing was presided over by Sir Dennis Byron, along with Justices Jacob Wit, Maureen Rajnauth-Lee, Denys Barrow and Hayton.

Blairmont Rice was represented by attorneys Sanjeev Datadin and Jamela Ali, while the respondents, listed individually as Kayman Sankar Company Limited, Kayman Sankar Invest-ments Limited and Beni Sankar, were represented by attorneys Vidyanand Persaud SC and Vidushi Persaud-McKinnon.

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