President’s revocation of Seafield farmers’ leases unlawful – CJ rules

Revoked leases: Rice farmers (from left) Rawle Miller, Rupert Blackman, Doreen Monah and Philip Alexander Johnson holding up their leases.

Acting Chief Justice Roxane George has ruled that President David Granger acted unlawfully when he revoked the leases for lands belonging to a group of Seafield, West Coast Berbice farmers.

The judge yesterday also granted a permanent conservatory order, restraining the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary-Agricultural Development Authority (MMA-ADA), or any other officer of the state, from entering upon, or in any manner whatsoever, infringing with the farmers’ peaceful enjoyment of their land.

However, an application by the farmers—Philip Alexander Johnson, Rupert Blackman, Rawle Miller and Doreen Monah—for special damages was not awarded, as the court found that this was not proved.

Delivering an oral judgment yesterday morning at the High Court in Georgetown, Justice George said the revocation infringed the fundamental rights of the farmers to property, guaranteed in Article 142(1) of the Constitution. 

That article provides, “No property of any description shall be compulsorily taken possession of, and no interest in or right over property of any description shall be compulsorily acquired, except by or under the authority of a written law and where provision applying to that taking of possession or acquisition is made by a written law requiring the prompt payment of adequate compensation.”

In their application challenging the revocation, the farmers were seeking compensation in the form of special damages for losses they claimed to have suffered after they were ousted from the lands.

The farmers had advanced in their application that at the time they were ready to reap paddy, one Flavio Farine, had moved unto the land without their permission, thus hindering them from reaping, resulting in economic loss.

The court, however, ruled that the applicants did not prove special damages, and as such, none could be awarded.

That apart, the farmers were seeking $5 million each in damages for breach of right to the enjoyment of their land. To this, the court also did not award compensation, but granted each $300,000 in costs.

The farmers had complained of life being extremely difficult for them as they could no longer adequately care for themselves and families after their farmlands were taken away.

They had earlier won a legal battle against the MMA-ADA, which had illegally cancelled their leases. However, the quartet was forced to return to the court to challenge the revocation by President Granger in April of last year.

The farmers were represented by attorneys Rajendra Jaigobin, Anil Nandlall and Manoj Narayan.

In May of this year, Justice George presided over a similar case, in which she ruled that 50-year leases issued by former president Donald Ramotar were valid and binding, and were unconstitutionally cancelled by President Granger.

Those leases were issued in 2014 to Joylyn Nicholson and her sons, Gratien Nicholson, Vaughn Aaron and Herman Nicholson fellow villager Brian George and his daughter, Tiffany Hubbard.