A High Court judge has directed that his judgment in a land matter be forwarded to the Attorney General for his determination on whether a bailiff’s licence should be revoked.
In a written ruling yesterday, Justice Frank Seepersad said urgent steps must be taken to stop bailiffs from unlawfully demolishing and taking possession of people’s property and clamp down on police officers who often assist in those unlawful acts. Ruling in favour of businessman Unanan Persad in a trespass claim in the San Fernando Civil Court, Seepersad also expressed alarm over evidence which came out in the trial which pointed to fraudulent activity and land grabbing.
As such, he directed the registrar to forward copies of the judgment, the expert evidence, pleadings and recording, to not only the Attorney General but also the Commissioner of Police, Director of Public Prosecutions and Commissioner of State Lands within 28 days.
Persad, the owner of Bougainvillea Restaurant and Bar, brought the claim against Sonnilal Debedial, his wife Samdaye Debedial, bailiff Ramkarran Ramparas and the Commissioner of State Lands in relation to a portion of land at Lot 1A Rivulet Road, Couva, which is opposite his home and business.
Sonnilal Debedial filed a counter-claim claiming he owned Lot 1A which forms part of his four acre property. Persad claimed he had possession of Lot 1A since 1984 and uses the land as a car park for his customers. Debedial, however, claimed since 1967 he and his family have been cultivating crops and rearing animals on the four-acre plot, inclusive of Lot 1A. The judge heard expert evidence which provided no evidence of cultivation and animal rearing on the land.
Debedial claimed to have received a letter from Caroni dated July 27, 1997 (referred to the Pujadas letter in the judgment) confirming his claim of his continuous occupation of the land for over 30 years.
He and his wife entered into an agreement with Aronco Services Ltd’s managing director Azard Hosein in 2014 to sell the four acres of land for $6 million. They received a deposit of $2.6 million and Aronco took possession of the land.
Acting on behalf of the Debedials, bailiff Ramparas with the assistance of uniformed police officers and other persons moved into Lot1 A and demolished Persad’s wire fencing in March 2016. Persad then filed the claim.
In his 21 page judgment, Seepersad said, “With alarming regularity, bailiffs are used to take possession of land, but the law does not authorise them to so do. Generally, a court order and writ of possession is required and the process ought to be undertaken by a marshal of the court. Where there is an undisputed entitlement to possession and in response to an evident act of trespass the remedy of self-help may be open to the person entitled to possession but even in such a circumstance, bailiffs have no function.”
Seepersad said very often, extra duty officers are utilised to be present when bailiffs are carrying out their acts. “Bailiffs are not authorised or empowered to demolish structures or retake possession of lands and the mere presence of officers at times, can serve to legitimise unlawful activity. In this regard, this judgment shall be forwarded to the Attorney General to make a determination as to whether steps should be taken to revoke the Third Defendant’s (Ramparas) bailiff licence (if he still has one).”
In addition, Seepersad said the Commissioner of Police should, as a matter of urgency, issue clear directives to police officers that they should desist from taking extra duty assignments to supervise demolitions and/or the taking of possession of lands, especially if no court order has been produced.
Seepersad also found Sonnilal Debedial was not a witness of truth. The judge ordered Sonnilal Debedial to pay Persad damages in the sum of $30,800 for the destruction of the fence and $5,000 for the act of trespass.
Debedial was also ordered to, within 14 days, to ensure that all vehicles and equipment placed by Aronco on the land are removed and to also break and remove the barriers and fence erected there. In default, the judge gave Persad permission to remove same, but the cost is to be borne by Debedial.
The husband and wife were also ordered to pay costs to Persad calculated on a prescribed cost basis on the sum of $35,800 and on the counter-claim on a prescribed cost in the sum of $14,000.
Costs associated with the injunctive proceedings will be assessed by the court in default of agreement. Persad was represented by Ernest Koylass Sc and Debbie Roopchand instructed by Renisa Ramlogan while the defendants were represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC and Vijaya Maharaj instructed by attorney Nyala Badel.