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Judge on Udecott’s lawsuit against Hart: Case still on ‘active’ list

Thursday, December 5, 2013

High Court judge Andre Des Vignes has pointed to several factors which he said led to an apparent delay in the Urban Development Corporation’s (Udecott) $65 million lawsuit against its former executive chairman Calder Hart and three of its former executives. The factors he raised included several amendments to the case made by Udecott, as well as procedural applications and time extensions granted to lawyers representing the four defendants to file their defences.



The judge made the comments while addressing reporters in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday, and said he decided to make a statement after he noticed several “inaccuracies” in media reports on a perceived delay in the case. Des Vignes said: “I would like to set the record straight, as inaccurate information leads to a wrong opinion on how the matter is progressing and leads to allegations that the judiciary is contributing to delays in the prosecuting of this matter.”


Reading a timeline of the case from when it was first filed in May last year, Des Vignes said was not in “limbo or in a state of abeyance,” but was being actively pursued. Through his timeline, which was forwarded to the media by the judiciary, Des Vignes showed that since the case was filed in May last year, Udecott’s lawyers had applied twice to amend their case—once on September 26 last year, and then a little over a month later on November 20. 


Hart was the only defendant when the lawsuit was first filed. However, former chief operating officer Neelanda Rampaul, former vice-chairman Dr Krishna Bahadoorsingh and executive manager, Business and Financial Operations, Ricardo O’Brien, were added when Des Vignes granted the first amendment in September last year. 



The lawsuit centres on the construction of the still incomplete Brian Lara Cricket Academy (BLCA) at Tarouba and alleges that the executives breached their duty to exercise skill, care and diligence in the management of the project. The money Udecott is seeking to recover—$65,680,978.88—represents the balance of the advance payments made to contractor Hafeez Karamath Ltd for the project. 


Des Vignes’ six-page timeline shows each time the lawsuit was amended, the defendants were allowed time to respond to new issues raised, with “reasonable” extensions being granted to file amended defences. Another reason for the delay raised by Des Vignes was numerous procedural applications filed by the defendants in April, in which they each asked for Udecott to disclose approximately 50 documents which may be vital for their defence. 


He said contrary to reports by the media that the case has been at a standstill since March, several case-management hearings were held in April and May to deal with the disclosure application. He said after receiving lengthy submissions in mid-July, he gave a “ambitious” undertaking to deliver his decision at the end of that month. 


But Des Vignes said because of his heavy case load, the death of his fellow judge Wendell Kangaloo and the court’s summer vacation, he was unable to meet his deadline. He eventually delivered his decision on the application during yesterday’s hearing. 



Des Vignes also said contrary to media reports, Hart and the other defendants were not required to attend case-management conferences. Referring to the Civil Proceedings Rules, he said he had used his discretion to allow them to miss the preliminary hearings, but they would be required to attend when the case itself starts. 


Des Vignes also denied he had placed a “gag order” on the case, but revealed that the lawyers had given an undertaking not to discuss certain issues with the media, because of an inaccurate report over Hart’s non-appearance at hearings. “The press is free to report on this matter, but I would like you to do so accurately,” Des Vignes said. 


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