Appeal Court denies state’s request to stay orders on cancellation of West Berbice land leases

The Court of Appeal on Friday rejected a bid by the state to stay orders made by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George SC giving several aggrieved Seafield, West Coast Berbice rice farmers rights to their lands.

In addition to refusing the application by the Attorney-General (AG) and Mahaica- Mahaicony-Abary-Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) for a stay of the execution of the orders, Appellate Judge Dawn Gregory also awarded farmers respondents Philip Alexander Johnson, Rupert Blackman, Rawle Miller $50,000 each.

An overjoyed Johnson, who was in court when the ruling was made, said that he could finally move forward with his life. “I thank God that this case is over and we are able now to go back into the fields peacefully to do our farming, also some of the lease holders,”  he said in an invited comment.

Last year Justice George ruled that the revocation of the farmers’ leases by President David Granger infringed on fundamental rights and property, which are guaranteed in Article 142(1) of the Constitution. 

On December 11th, 2017 she granted orders declaring that the cancellation of the lease in the name of the Applicants was contrary to Article 142 of the Constitution as such cancellation amounted to the compulsory acquisition of the Applicants’ property without adequate notice or compensation; and that the cancellation of the said leases were void and of no effect unless compensation is paid for what is a clear breach of the terms of the lease by the said cancellation. She also issued a permanent conservatory order restraining the Respondents, their servants, agents and/or assigns from interfering with the Applicants’ possession, occupation of the state land held by the respective leases that were cancelled unless compensation is paid.

On January 3rd, 2018, the AG and the MMA/ADA lodged appealed the decision and subsequently on March 5th they also filed an application for a stay of execution of the orders made by Justice George.

The AG and MMA/ADA were represented by attorney Saphier Hussain, while the rice farmers were represented by Anil Nandlall, Manoj Narayan, Rajendra Jaigobin and Anuradha Deodasingh.

Nandlall, in a statement on Friday, said Justice Gregory handed down her decision in chambers at the Court of Appeal after reading all the affidavits and written submissions and hearing oral arguments.

While he expected the court to rule in his favour, Johnson pointed out that he is well aware that the matter could reach the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). “I am prepared to fight to end even if they make an attempt to go to the CCJ because I know I have broken no law and the granting of the lease was an agreement sealed and binded by law,” he said.

“I never steal the land and it is not a family story, it was a legal business and I was always saying if they need the land compensate me, instead of them trying to bully me by forcible taking it away,” Johnson stressed.

He told Stabroek News that despite the current bad weather, he will make an attempt to resume planting on the land in the new week.

In his notice of appeal, AG Basil Williams SC had argued 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 him, 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 argued 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 also 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.

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

 

 

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