The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Government’s brief move to implement a mandatory data collection exercise for the implementation of property tax in 2017 was illegal and breached citizens’ constitutional rights.
Delivering a written judgement, earlier this morning, Appellate Judges Peter Rajkumar, Charmaine Pemberton and Vasheist Kokaram reversed the decision of High Court Judge Jacqueline Wilson, who dismissed civic activist Devant Maharaj’s lawsuit on the issue in 2018.
Justice Rajkumar, who wrote the substantive judgement, ruled that the Commissioner of Valuations had no legal authority under Section 6 of the Valuation of Land Act to require Maharaj and other property owners to submit a valuation return form on or before June 10, 2017 and that property owners were under no corresponding obligation to do so.
Rajkumar and his colleagues stated that Maharaj was only entitled to declarations over the policy, which was clarified by the Government after Maharaj brought his lawsuit.
“Because the Commissioner reversed course at the first opportunity , and the evidence suggests inadvertence rather than highhanded conduct or intent to breach statute or the Constitution, declarations of breaches will therefore suffice,” Rajkumar said.
He was also careful to note that the judgement did not extend to the Government’s current data collection exercise which is being done under a different statutory regime. The current deadline for submission under the new policy, which is yet to be challenged, is January 31.
“Nothing herein is intended to be construed as affecting that exercise which is not before this court on this appeal,” Rajkumar said.
While the decision in the case means that the forms that property owners, who would have submitted them on the basis of the previous mandatory nature of the policy before it was reversed, cannot now be used, the panel suggested that some affected persons may wish to leave their data in the system for use under the current policy.
“Some persons may be content to have their information remain with the Commissioner even though they provided it on the basis that it was mandatory that they do so rather than go through the entire exercise at such future time if required,” Rajkumar said.
As a secondary issue in the case, the appeal panel ruled that previous policy breached Maharaj’s constitutional rights to protection of the law and respect for his private life.
Justice Kokaram, who dealt specifically with the latter, noted that mandatory policy for the disclosure of personal information such as telephone numbers and email addresses caused the breach.
“The unlawful demand for this private information robs the interaction between the individual and the State of its legitimacy. An illegitimate power to make the request places the demand in the sphere of exclusion,” Kokaram said.
Maharaj was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Renuka Rambhajan, Kent Samlal , Jayanti Lutchmedial, Jared Jagroo, and Vishaal Siewsaran.