AG appeals CJ’s ruling on president’s ‘unlawful’ cancellation of West Berbice leases

Basil Williams

The Attorney General (AG) has appealed acting Chief Justice Roxane George’s ruling, that President David Granger acted unlawfully by revoking leases for lands belonging to a group of Seafield, West Coast Berbice farmers.

Among other things, AG Basil Williams SC is contending that the judge erred and misdirected herself in law by restraining the Mahaica, Mahaicony, Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA-ADA), or any state agent from entering the land.

Last October, Justice George ruled that the revocation infringed the fundamental rights of the farmers—Philip Alexander Johnson, Rupert Blackman, Rawle Miller and Doreen Monah—to property, guaranteed in Article 142(1) of the Constitution. 

The AG has also appealed a similar ruling made by the Chief justice in the case brought by father and daughter Brian George and Tiffaine Hubbard and others of Number 40 Village, West Coast Berbice.

Williams is arguing that the judge erred when she ruled that the cancellation of the leases were contrary to Article 142, or that the revocation infringed any fundamental right to property guaranteed by that article.

According to his notice of appeal, contrary to pronouncements made by the judge, cancellation of the leases do not amount to compulsory acquisition.

Article 142 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.”

The AG argues that Justice George failed to apply the proper principles of interpretation in respect to Article 182 and amendments thereto and therefore misdirected herself in interpreting it.

According to the AG, the Chief Justice acted outside of her jurisdiction pursuant to Articles 180 and 182, and was therefore wrong in findings that challenge the acts of the President. Williams said that the holder of that office cannot be challenged.

Article 182 states, “Subject to the provisions of article 180, the holder of the office of

President shall not be personally answerable to any court for the performance of the functions of his office or for any act done in the performance of those functions and no proceedings, whether criminal or civil, shall be instituted against him in his personal capacity in respect thereof either during his term of office or thereafter.”

The AG declared the judge’s decision to be per incuriam as the court failed to consider

the proviso to Article 182, i.e, subject to Article 180, which gives to Parliament in respect to the president committing any violation of the constitution, exclusive jurisdiction to determine.

According to Williams, the Chief Justice failed to consider that the leases were illegal, as they were not signed in accordance with provisions of the State Grants (Presidential Signature) Act by then President Donald Ramotar.

In addition to seeking costs, the appellants are hoping for the Court of Appeal to wholly set aside, reverse and/or discharge Justice George’s ruling.

A date for the hearing is yet to be fixed for the appeal.

In their application challenging the revocation, the farmers had advanced 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.

They were seeking compensation in the form of special damages for losses they claimed to have suffered after they were ousted from the lands.

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

That apart, they sought $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.

They 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.

The quartet was represented by attorneys Anil Nandlall, Manoj Narayan and Rajendra Jaigobin.

In May of last year, Justice George ruled that 50-year leases issued by former president 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 George and his daughter, Tiffaine.

They too were granted costs in the sum of $300,000 each.

Just recently, Nandlall complained of the AG’s refusal to make those payments to his clients, emphasising that a pending appeal does not operate to stay the orders for cost already made by the Chief Justice.

In a letter to Minister of Finance Winston Jordan, whose ministry Nandlall said is by law obligated to make the payments, he threatened court action, by way of initiating contempt proceedings unless the payments are made. Nandlall said that all attempts so far to secure payment from the AG’s Chambers have proven futile, and as a result he has decided to write Jordan, to whom he said he had initially spoken, concerning the matter. Counsel said that an early settlement of the payments would be welcomed.

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