Dipcon’s award of US$2.2M: State’s ignorance of pending litigation unacceptable- CCJ

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CCJ President, Sir Dennis Byron

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has delivered a ruling on the matter involving the Attorney General (AG) of Guyana and Trinidad construction company Dipcon whereby the Government will now have to pay that company US$2.2 million, after losing its bid to appeal the judgment.

But the CCJ in its ruling pointed out that there were various time-frame violations, on all of which detailed comments were given in the written judgment. It said these very factors highlight how unacceptable were the reasons for the State’s failure to be aware of this pending litigation and the award of judgment.

CCJ is Headquartered in Trinidad

It also noted its failure to apply urgently for an extension of time within which to appeal. “To say, regardless of who was in Government, that the State failed to satisfy the most basic standard of care is an understatement,” noted the Court in the written judgment, which was released a few days ago.

In delivering his ruling, CCJ President, Sir Dennis Byron reprimanded the State for its failure to apply for an extension of time to file a special leave application, and said that was sufficient reason to dismiss the out-of-time application for special leave, for want of jurisdiction.

The Judge noted that even though the AG was well aware that he needed to have applied for special leave to appeal, and needed first to have applied for an extension of time within which to make the application, his counsel deliberately chose not to file these applications and offered no justification.

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall

Recalling the timeframe in which this case happened, former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall pointed out that he had demitted office after the May 11, 2015 elections and the new and current AG, Basil Williams, had taken up his post not long after.

In October 2015, the High Court granted judgment against the AG in favour of Dipcon in certain legal proceedings, which eventually culminated in the CCJ’s decision delivered on November 15, 2015. When that judgment was granted by the High Court, Williams was already six months in office. No appeal was filed against this judgment within the required six-week period as prescribed by the law.

Nandlall recalled that the AG had claimed that he only became aware of the judgment in January 2016, which was four months after the judgment was granted and 11 months after he assumed office. The AG had also reportedly blamed Nandlall for his ignorance of this judgment, although Nandlall had left office in May 2015. Williams took another few weeks before he filed an application in February 2016 to extend time for appealing the judgment granted by the High Court.

The matter reached the CCJ due to the AG’s failure to provide to the Court of Appeal of Guyana good and substantial reasons for an extension of time to be granted for an appeal to be filed out of time and to persuade the Court that the said intended appeal has some prospects of success. As a result, the Court of Appeal had refused to grant an extension of time.

Attorney General Basil Williams

While the blame was put at the feet of Nandlall who served previously as AG and the then acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh for the Court of Appeal aspect, the CCJ has now ruled that the wrong type of appeal was filed to that Court; therefore, the jurisdiction of the CCJ was not properly invoked.

Additionally, the CCJ went on to express the view that even if the proper documents were filed, the decision would not have been different, since sufficient material was not put before the Court to demonstrate that there was a “miscarriage of justice”. As a result, the Court dismissed the application, leaving Guyana to pay the judgment of US$2.2 million, an embarrassing setback.

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