The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), in a judgment delivered today, urged the Guyana Government to urgently consider reforming the Deeds Registry Act.
The judgment was handed down in the case of Merlene Todd v Desiree Price and Ann Jennifer Jeboo.
Allan Price, now deceased, had owned the west half of Lot 153 Queenstown, Georgetown.
In February 2004, Jeboo, claiming to act on behalf of Price, used a Power of Attorney to sell the lands to Todd, who obtained a transport. It was subsequently discovered that the Power of Attorney was fake and Jeboo was convicted of fraud.
Price sued both Jeboo and Todd in the Guyana High Court seeking to set aside the sale and have the transport declared void.
Under the Deeds Registry Act, a person loses his or her land once a transport is registered at the Deeds Registry unless fraud is proved on the part of the holder of the new transport.
Price died in 2010 and the proceedings were thereafter carried on by his widow, Desiree Price, on behalf of his estate. On August 30, 2012, the trial judge dismissed the action against Todd but awarded damages to the estate of Allan Price against Jeboo.
Desiree Price appealed this decision and asked the Guyana Court of Appeal to find that Todd was a part of the fraud. Todd resisted the appeal on the ground that High Court proceedings had not been conducted on the basis that she was a part of Jeboo’s fraud.
On March 16, 2020, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and found that Todd’s gross negligence made her a part of the fraud. The court declared that the transport was null and void. Todd appealed to the CCJ arguing that the Court of Appeal was wrong to find that she was a part of the fraud. She asked the CCJ to set aside the Court of Appeal’s decision and restore the trial judge’s decision.
The CCJ found that there was no allegation before the trial judge that Todd was part of Jeboo’s fraud and that she had, therefore, not been allowed to defend herself against these allegations. Against this backdrop, the regional court found that it was unfair to allow those allegations to be made at the appellate stage of the trial.
The CCJ held that gross negligence was not the same as fraud and that, in any case, Todd had also not been allowed to respond to allegations of gross negligence. In these circumstances, the CCJ ruled that the Court of Appeal was wrong to find that Todd was a part of the fraud.
According to the CCJ, the Court of Appeal also made errors in the way in which it conducted its fact-finding exercise and was not entitled to overturn the findings of fact which were made by the trial judge.
Finding that the original landowner had been deprived of his land through no fault of his own, CCJ Judge Winston Anderson expressed that this showcased the need for legislative reform.
In separate judgments, CCJ Judges Jacob Wit and Peter Jamadar both reasoned that the approaches to the law as well as the outcome of this appeal did not seem satisfactory or just.
The Judges suggested that there may be other legal approaches that could have resulted in different outcomes and explored those possibilities. The CCJ Judges noted that the legislature should review and amend the Deeds Registry Act to refine or improve the law to meet the needs of current land law realities in Guyana.
Justice Jamadar also suggested that the Deeds Registry Act needs to be reviewed and an assessment made whether it passes constitutional muster in Guyana, and if not, what modifications are required to do so, explaining why this should be done.
Having regards to its findings, the CCJ allowed the appeal, setting aside the orders of the Court of Appeal. The orders granted by the trial judge were restored, including the orders as to costs.