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Government to appeal ECSC judgement in Toussaint case

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The Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines will appeal the judgement handed down in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on March, 3, 2015 in favour of retired Commissioner of Police, Randolph Toussaint.

The ruling, which was given by Justice Pearletta E Lanns, awarded Toussaint 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.{{more}} Additionally, it was 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.

In her judgment, Justice Lanns 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.”

Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, during a press conference on Monday, noted that while he had much respect for Justice Lanns, he was advised by the State’s lawyers that there was “a very strong case for appeal.”

“An appeal has been lodged against the judgement,” Gonsalves declared.

“As I said at the public meeting, the ordinary man on the street would find it very difficult to understand how you could buy land from the government as Mr Toussaint did sometime in the 1990s for under $10,000 and when it was acquired for the public purpose the sum is a number like $400,000.”

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.

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.

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.

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