Declaring that the application before it was hopeless, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has rejected a bid by a sister to appeal a case against her brother pertaining to a property, citing delays.
In its ruling, the CCJ said that the systemic delays in the case show a long history of counsel errors, which led the Applicants to change lawyers more than once.
“Courts rightly are tending increasingly to insist on high standards from counsel. Misunderstanding by counsel of the time limit for filing a Notice of Appeal is not considered a good reason for extending a time limit. An attorney’s ignorance of the rules will rarely, if ever, provide a good reason for failing to comply with them. Errors that cause inexcusable or reprehensible delay may amount to professional misconduct. We acknowledge that minor infractions which do not prejudice the other parties, the timeliness of the resolution of the dispute and the administration of justice need not always result in turning away litigants from the seat of justice. But, in this case, the breach of time standards is not trivial: the delay is inordinate”, the CCJ declared.
Ruby Mitchell and Owen Mitchell were the applicants in the case while John Wilson was the respondent.
The two Mitchells had filed a case in the High Court against Wilson in 2003 and received a final decision twelve years later, on 2nd March, 2015. That decision disappointed the Mitchells so they filed a Notice of Appeal in the Court of Appeal, on 17th April, 2015, which due to a calculation error by their counsel, was four days late. Instead of immediately applying for an extension of time which might have cured that minor delay, the CCJ said that they initially did nothing. Then, almost one year later, on 21st March, 2016, they suddenly withdrew the Notice of Appeal and, on 12th April, 2016, three weeks later, filed the application to expand the time for filing a Notice of Appeal.
The CCJ said that the Guyana Court of Appeal acted speedily. It heard and dismissed that application on 15th June, 2016. Still, the CCJ said that it took the Mitchells until 25th January, 2017, to apply for special leave to the CCJ to appeal that dismissal. Apparently, the reason for that delay was that counsel mistakenly pursued an application before the Court of Appeal for leave to appeal to the CCJ, and it was only after the Court of Appeal pointed counsel to the relevant provisions of the Caribbean Court of Justice Act 2004, Act No. 16 of 2004 that the Mitchells withdrew that application and applied to the CCJ for special leave.
“In any event, the Applicants are again out of time but have not applied to this Court for an extension of time to file the special leave application. How many errors can one make?” the CCJ asked.
It said that the overriding objectives of the CCJ Rules requires the CCJ to discourage unnecessary disputes over procedural matters.
“This is a procedural dispute and in considering the requirements of a just result we should also consider that the resources to be allocated to the case should be proportionate to its complexity. Having thoroughly reviewed all the material filed, we have decided to issue this decision without a hearing”, the CCJ ruled.
The underlying case was a family dispute between a sister, Ruby Mitchell and her brother, John Wilson over family property purchased by their mother, Ruth Wilson, upon which stood a dwelling house that they helped to construct.
John Wilson has lived in the downstairs of the property ever since it was constructed around 1967. Ruby Mitchell, acting as attorney for Ruth Wilson executed a deed of transport to herself by way of gift just about two weeks before the death of Ruth Wilson. She later executed a deed of transport to herself and the second Applicant, Owen Mitchell jointly. They then initiated proceedings to evict John Wilson, who defended and counterclaimed the action on the ground of fraud among other things. He also maintained that the property belonged to him and Ruby Mitchell in equal shares.
The High Court judge found that the title deeds in the name of the Mitchells were tainted with fraud and declared them null and void.
The CCJ also ordered that the Mitchells pay the costs of Wilson in the sum of $179,500.
Lyndon Amsterdam represented the Mitchells and CV Satram the respondent.