Red House lease challenge: Another conservatory order granted

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The red house

The Opposition People’s Progress Party has managed to secure from the High Court two conservatory orders blocking the State from ejecting the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (CJRC) from the Red House in Kingston, Georgetown.

Acting Chief Justice Roxane George, SC, on Wednesday overruled every submission made by Attorney General Basil Williams, and refused his request that the CJRC case be dismissed.

The Chief Justice upheld submissions made by Attorney-at-Law Anil Nandlall on behalf of the CJRC: that there are serious issues to be tried, and those cannot be determined at the interlocutory stage.

Attorney General Basil Williams, SC, in a release from his Chamber outlined several of those issues as “(i) Whether the President has immunity for his acts done in performance of his functions? (ii) Whether officials acting for and in the name of the President are likewise immune from orders of Court? (ii) Whether Red House gazetted as a National Monument and heritage site could be leased by the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys to the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Inc. (CJRCI) without the permission of the Minister of Education. (iv) Whether President Jagdeo or Ramotar sanctioned the purported lease of Red House to the CJRCI. (v) Whether the failure of the CJRCI to advertise in the official gazette in the manner of executing a Transport, the purported lease of 99 years to the CJRCI, renders the lease invalid, ineffectual and incapable of being pleaded in a Court of Law. (vi) Whether such a lease of 99 years ought not to have been filed in the Deeds Registry as a matter of record and annotated by the registrar as is required by the Deeds Registry Act. (vii) Whether the claim of constitutional breaches ought not to be supported with particulars and facts in the Application by CJRCI.”

Attorney Nandlall later disclosed that the interlocutory conservatory orders were granted to preserve the status quo pending the hearing and determination of the principal matter.

He said the first order has to do with preventing or restraining the defendants, their servants and/or agents, or any other officer of the Government or the State of Guyana from ejecting or evicting the plaintiff, its servants and/or agents from the property.

And the second order prevents or restrains the respondents, their servants and/or agents, or any other officer of the Government or the State of Guyana from removing any documents, photographs, artifacts, souvenirs, furniture, fixtures and fittings, appliances, or any other movable property from the premises.

Nandlall said these proceedings were originally heard by Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards when she was acting in the capacity of Chief Justice, and she had rejected the preliminary argument of the Attorney General: that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear those proceedings.

Nandall claimed that during Wednesday’s hearing, Williams had again attempted to mislead the court by insisting that the CJRC was no longer in possession of the Red House, and that the Government is in possession of the property.

Nandlall further said the Chief Justice has directed the plaintiff to file a Statement of Claim within 21 days, and has directed the defendants to file their response within 21 days thereafter. The plaintiff was further directed to file a reply, if necessary, within 14 days, and the matter was ordered to take its normal course.

Nandlall said the CJRC was also ordered to pay to the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys costs previously imposed by the Court but not as yet paid.

Attorney General Basil Williams had earlier this year expressed an opinion that the Red House lease was invalid and could not be pleaded in any court of justice. He had argued that the case should have been thrown out because the applicants had failed to make full and frank disclosures before the court.

But Nandlall, in response, had noted that the Attorney General’s arguments were premature at that stage; and he had also accused the AG of pressuring the Chief Justice by signifying on several occasions that the President has a special interest in the Red House proceedings.

Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, then acting Chief Justice, had said that while the President was immune from the proceedings, his actions were not. This had clarified the reiterated contention that the President’s actions could not be prosecuted.

President David Granger had, last year, given the occupants of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre 48 hours to vacate the premises, a directive which Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo had described as “unconscionable and vindictive”.

 

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