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Government’s actions against COP Toussaint unlawful – Judge

Government’s actions against COP Toussaint unlawful – Judge

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Following a 12-year legal battle, a High Court judge has ruled in favour of a retired Commissioner of Police (COP) – deeming the actions of the Government towards him as “unconstitutional” and “unlawful”.

In a judgement handed down on March 3, 2015 by Justice Pearletta E Lanns of the Eastern {{more}}Caribbean Supreme Court, former COP Randolph Toussaint was awarded EC$361,779.30 plus interest, at a rate of six per cent per annum, for land that the Government acquired from him in December 2002.

In addition to that, the judgment stipulated that the Government must also pay Toussaint prescribed costs and $75,000 in “aggravated damages” within 60 days, or at a mutually agreed future date.

Speaking to SEARCHLIGHT, Toussaint said that he is “happy” with the result, but pointed out that the “battle” was won since 2007 when the Privy Council ruled in his favour.

“This is a battle that finished long time… I was vindicated, so this is only the cost,” he explained. “The only thing I didn’t get was… punitive damages, and it is my fault that I didn’t say what stress I went though for the period… Other than that, I am satisfied.”

Justice Lanns, in her judgment, said that the Government’s acquisition of Toussaint’s 12,957 sq ft land in Canouan under the then Land Acquisition Ordinance 1946 (now the Land Acquisition Act Cap 322) was “unconstitutional, unlawful and null and void.”

“This is a serious case,” stated Justice Lanns. “At issue is what was the true reason for the compulsory acquisition…”

She described the Government’s gazetted reason for acquiring the land – to build a Learning Resource Centre for the people of Canouan – as “pretended exercise of powers;” and said that the move was a contravention of the fundamental rights of the claimant (Toussaint).

In 1990, Toussaint bought the land in question from the then New Democratic Party (NDP) administration through the Development Corporation for $6,478.50.

After the Unity Labour Party won general elections in 2001, Toussaint received a letter (dated March 26, 2002) from the Attorney General, asserting that he had been allowed to purchase the land in Canouan at a low price that “didn’t reflect its fair market value” because of his close relationship with the previous administration. The letter required Toussaint to pay the Government the “purported” shortfall in price of $84,220.50, plus over $4,000 in stamp duty.

Toussaint did not respond to the Attorney General’s letter, neither did he reply to a subsequent letter sent on May 9, 2002. Instead, he had been engaged in selling the land to a third party. When the Deed of Conveyance was sent to the Valuation Department to progress the sale, it was kept and not returned.

During a budget debate on December 5, 2002, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said in Parliament that the sale of the land to Toussaint had been an “injustice” and a “scandal”, and that Government and Cabinet should act accordingly to rectify the matter.

He further recited a draft declaration that outlined that Toussaint’s land would be acquired for the purpose of building a Learning Resource Centre.

Three months later, Toussaint was informed that $9,717.80 had been deposited in his name at the Treasury Department by way of compensation for the acquisition.

Toussaint initiated legal action against the Government in October 2003, insisting that his land had not been acquired for public purpose, but instead to politically victimize him.

On May 25, 2004, Justice Louise Blenman ruled that the Prime Minister’s transcribed speech during the aforementioned December 2002 budget debate could not be submitted as evidence to support Toussaint’s claim, because it fell under parliamentary privilege.

However, the Privy Council overruled this decision in July 2007, allowing the Prime Minister’s statement to be made admissable as evidence. It found that to throw out said evidence would “unduly and effectively” undermine Toussaint’s right of access to the court.

However, actions (and lack of actions) on both the claimant’s and the defendant’s sides caused an “inordinate delay” in the trial, and the matter was not revived until 2014 – three years after the Learning Resource Centre in Canouan was officially opened.

The former Commissioner of Police readily acknowledged that although he was awarded costs, the Government now has the option to appeal this decision.

“I don’t see anything to appeal,” he noted. “[They] can only appeal to prolong the payment… in my opinion!”

Toussaint was represented by Ramesh Maharaj SC, along with Dr Godwin Friday and Mira Commissiong; while the Government/Attorney General was represented by Anthony Astaphan SC, along with Richard Williams, Kesron Walters and Karen Duncan. (JSV)

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