The Eastern Caribbean Supreme has ruled that the Unity Labour Party government’s acquisition of land in Canouan once owned by former police chief, Randolph Toussaint, is “unconstitutional, unlawful and null and void”.
It further said that the acquisition is “a contravention of the fundamental right of the claimant, namely the right to enjoyment of property guaranteed in section 6(1) and 692) of the Constitution”.
Acting High Court Judge Pearletta Lanns, in judgment handed down on March 3, ordered that the Attorney General pay Toussaint EC$361,779.30 plus interest at the rate of 6 per cent per annum from Dec. 5, 2002, the date of first publication of the declaration of the acquisition in the gazette, until full payment of compensation.
The court also ordered that the Attorney General pay Toussaint EC$75000 as aggravated damages, in addition to prescribed costs.
Payments of the amounts are to be made within 60 days of the judgement or at some future date to be agreed by all parties.
The case stemmed from the acquisition by the government in 2002 of 12,957 square feet of land owned by Toussaint, a former commissioner of police in the southern Grenadine island of Canouan.
In November 2002, Toussaint attempted to sell the plans for EC$268,820 and Gonsalves accused him of seeking to profit fro the assets of the state.
“Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines … Honourable members, have taken the decision to write letters to a number o persons including Randolph Toussaint, and certain matter were bang, deal with. But this particular act required for the government, the Cabinet of this country, to act with dispatch, with speed, with focus, not to allow this injustice to be perpetrated, this scandal,” Gonsalves told Parliament in Dec. 5, 2002, as part of a statement that would form a central plank of Toussaint’s case against the state.
In 1990, while the New Democratic Party was in office, Toussaint bought 12,957 square feet of land in Canouan from the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines through he Development Corporation.
The purchase price was EC$6,478.50 — or 50 cents per square foot.
As part of the sale agreement, no resale of the land was permitted without the permission of the Development Corporation and the land was to be developed within three years.
Failure to develop the lands within three years without the Development Corporation’s agreement meant that the land would be revered to the Corporation at the original price.
Further, no structure was to be erected on the land without the approval of the physical Planning Authority.
On March 3, 1993, Toussaint obtained an extension for three years to comply with the restrictions of the sale.
Further, on March 5, 1996, he was released from the performance of all the restriction and stipulation issued in 1990.
During the Budget Debate On Dec. 5, 2002, Gonsalves told Parliament that the sale of the land to Toussaint was an “injustice” and or a “scandal” which required the Government and the Cabinet to correct it.
On that same day, Gonsalves caused the issue and publication of a declaration in an extraordinary issue of the Government Gazette that the lands belonging to Toussaint be acquired “for a public purpose, to wit, a Learning Resource Centre, for the people of Canouan”.
On March 3, 2013, the Land and Surveys Department wrote Toussaint saying that EC$9,717.80 had been deposited at the Treasury Department in his name, being “payment (plus interest at the rate of 5% over a period of 10 years” for the lands that he acquired in 1990.
The judge said it would be readily apparent that the money was not the alleged market value, but at the original price of EC$6,478.50 plus 5 per cent per annum simple interest.
Toussaint was aggrieved and resorted to the court, accusing the government of acquiring his lands “unlawfully … without adequate compensation … in reasonable time” and allegedly “without a valid reason”.
He alleged that the Prime Minister’s Dec. 5, 2002 statement shows the true reason for the acquisition of his land. He further alleged that the reasons were political and that the learning resource centre alleged in the declaration was “a sham and a stratagem to deprive him of his land unlawfully”.
But on Nov. 14, 2003, the Attorney General applied for an order striking out certain paragraphs of Toussaint’s claim, and Exhibit “RT 11”, which contained Gonsalves’ comments during the budget debate.
On Mar 24, 2014, Justice Louise Blenman struck out certain paragraphs of the claim.
Toussaint appealed to the Court of Appeal, which ruled that statement was inadmissible since no permission was sought from the Speaker of the House of Assembly for its use in court.
He then appealed to the London-based Privy Council, the nation’s highest court, which ruled that Toussaint’s right of access to the court for constitutional relief would be unduly and effectively undermined, if he were not able to rely upon the Prime Minister’s statement in the Budget debate of Dec. 5, 2002.
With the Prime Minister’s statement now admissible, the judge concluded that Gonsalves’ statement in Parliament establishes that the government purported to acquire the land, not for the purpose of building a learning resource centre, but to reverse “the perceived injustice and or a scandal arising from the sale price of the land, and to deprive Mr. Toussaint from making a profit on the land.
“That purpose was an impermissible purpose, and that impermissible purpose materially influenced the acquisition,” Lanns ruled.
“Because of the statement, the court finds that despite the existence of the Learning Resource Centre, in reality, the purpose residing in the declaration was a sham, a stratagem to deprive Mr. Toussaint of his land, and that even though the learning resource centre was actually built on the land in question. It does not mean that it was a lawful exercise of power under the act.
“The court is of the view that although the purpose in the declaration was carried into effect, that purpose was not the dominant, real of operative purpose of the acquisition,” the judge further ruled.