Former Urban Development Corporation of T&T (UDeCOTT) executive chairman Calder Hart was notably absent as his lawsuit against the findings of the Las Alturas Commission of Enquiry went to trial today.
Hart's absence from the trial was raised as it commenced before Justice David Harris at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning.
Queen's Counsel Richard Clayton, who is representing commissioners Dr Myron Wing-Sang Chin and Anthony Farrell, suggested Hart's claim could be dismissed based on the Civil Proceedings Rules.
While he noted that Hart, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, may be excused from case management hearings, Clayton said he is required to be present during the trial of the substantive case.
Clayton noted that at previous hearings of the case, Hart's lawyers were informed by Harris of the need for him to be in court for the trial.
Hart's lawyer Dr Lloyd Barnett challenged the suggestion as he pointed out that Hart's presence was not required as he did not have to be cross-examined in the case.
Harris did not immediately recall his previous warnings over Hart and promised to check the transcripts of previous hearings to resolve the issue before the end of the trial, this week.
Besides the issue of Hart's non-appearance, yesterday's hearing was also overshadowed by an application from the commissioners to strike the Office of the Attorney General as an interested party in the lawsuit.
In their application, they are claiming that Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi made prejudicial statements against their final report after receiving legal advice from Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein. They also claim that the AG's Office can not be considered as an independent party as its submissions mimicked those raised by Hart.
Hosein, who is also representing the AG's Office in the lawsuit, chose to defend its position.
Hosein claimed that Al-Rawi had made his position clear since 2016 but the commissioners only chose to challenge it just as the case went to trial. He also alleged that Al-Rawi recused himself from the case after receiving his initial advice and that his submissions in the case are different.
Harris suggested that the issue be dealt with after the trial is completed as it would derail the time-line for completion.
"Am I, as a judge, not required to make a decision on the material before me?" Harris said. He then allowed Hosein to make his submissions.
The trial continues tomorrow.
About the case
The commission of enquiry was set up to investigate the construction of the Las Alturas Towers at Lady Young Gardens, Morvant.
Former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar appointed the commission after two multi-storey units of the housing project began falling apart after
construction and were earmarked for demolition.
In the commission's report, presented in September 2016, it stated that while there were no grounds for criminal proceedings to be brought against anyone, civil action could be taken against Hart, former Housing Development Corporation (HDC) managing director Noel Garcia, UDeCOTT and the HDC for negligence in how the project was handled. Garcia, who is the current chairman of UDeCOTT, has also filed a similar lawsuit against the commissioners. Garcia's case is yet to go to trial.
In his lawsuit, Hart is claiming that the commission acted unfairly and irrationally by failing to inform him of the adverse findings of the report and giving him an opportunity to respond before publication.
He is alleging that the process used by the commission damaged his reputation and opened the possibility of civil litigation against him.
Retired Justice of Appeal Mustapha Ibrahim, who chaired the commission, was listed as a party but passed away while the case was still pending. The case was continued against Wing-Sang Chin and Farrell.
The commissioners are also being represented by Gerald Ramdeen and Alvin Pariagsingh.