The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has upheld a $30 million court award of compensation to Deorani Singh on behalf of the estate of Mohan Pirtram Singh whose land was compulsory acquired by the State over 35 years ago.
However, the substantive appeal which carried the matter to the CCJ was dismissed by the Trinidadian-based court on Monday. The Attorney General (AG) and the State-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investment (NICIL) were the two named respondents.
The court found that none of the Appellant’s grounds of appeal succeeded and dismissed the appeal. The regional judicial arm however indicated that “the forensic reality is that the State was content to accept the decision (judgment award) reached by the Court of Appeal and, accordingly, it did not disturb that decision.”
The Georgetown property which was at the centre of contention was the site where Mohan Singh operated his business until his death in 1980 and then a State entity leased the property for five years.
In a judgment summary issued by the CCJ, it was observed that the State, under the Acquisition of Lands for Public Purposes Act Chapter 62:05, compulsory acquired the land from the Singh estate.
In 2003, the property was taken over by NICIL. However, it was in 1997, some six years prior that Deorani Singh filed a High Court motion, challenging the State’s compensation, arguing that her and the estate’s fundamental rights and freedoms as observed by Articles 40 and 142 of the Constitution were “contravened”. She petitioned the court to have the acquisition declared as unconstitutional, null and void and to no effect.
Singh’s motion was heard in the High Court in 2002 and a judgment was delivered in 2010 by Justice Roy which viewed that the acquisition was unconstitutional.
However, the then AG appealed the trial judge’s decision but the Appeal Court upheld the High Court’s ruling and awarded $30 million in damages for the contravention meted out to Singh.
The CCJ highlighted that the State considered itself the lawful and genuine owner of the property and that there was “considerable work done on the property” and two transfers of ownership.
The Court contended that it would be an “great injustice” to permit the appellant, Singh, to see an order to pronounce that the property was never acquired or vested in the State.
The CCJ however, opined that there was significant delay in the judicial process as the constitutional motion was heard five years after it was filed in 2002 and judgment delivered in 2010 due to a missing file.
The appeal was filed in 2010 and oral judgment was given seven years later in 2017 before the CCJ heard the matter in February 2018. The respondents were awarded basic costs.