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Privy Council Decision – Randolph Toussaint v Attorney General – part 1

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On July 16, 2007 the Lords of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in appeal No. 28 of 2006 delivered the judgment in the case of Randolph Trueman Toussaint and the Attorney General of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. In allowing the appeal their Lordships advised Her Majesty that the statement made in the House of Assembly by the Prime Minister during the debate of the House of Assembly was “admissible in evidence in support of the appellant’s claim not withstanding s16 of the House of Assembly (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act 1966.”{{more}}

The appeal arose out of what the appellant alleged was the Government’s “discriminatory and or illegitimate expropriation” of land belonging to him. In 1990, while he was the Commissioner of Police, he bought 12,570 square feet of crown land through the Development Corporation for a sum of $6,478.50.

When the Government changed hands in 2001, the Attorney General of the new government wrote the appellant in relation to the land. In her letter to the appellant, she suggested that he had knowledge of the developmental potential of the land and indicated that the land was purchased at a lower price than what was the fair market price because of the appellant’s “close relationship” with the previous government. She, therefore, required him to pay some $84,220.50 which appeared to be a shortfall on the price of the land, together with the stamp duty. As the appellant failed to respond, the Attorney General again wrote to him suggesting that the appellant return the land and be refunded.

The issue of the conditions surrounding the purchase of the land was raised by the Prime Minister during the budget debates in Parliament on December 5, 2002. The appellant saw the televised broadcast and obtained a video tape to support his claim that the reason for the expropriation was political. However, the appellant failed to obtain permission from the Speaker of the House to use statements in evidence relating to the debate in the House of Assembly. The Attorney General applied to the court to strike out the statements made in the appellant’s claim form and affidavit. Blenman J, the trial judge, struck out paragraphs in the claim and affidavit based on the Prime Minister’s statements and the appellant went on to the Court of Appeal, which held that the statements were inadmissible under the Privileges Act of 1966 as the Speaker did not give permission for the use of the same.

The appellant wished to rely on the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament, as he thought it gave the true reasons for the compulsory acquisition rather than that given in the Government Gazette, that is, the setting up of a Learning Centre for the people of Canouan under the Land Acquisition Act 1946. The appellant declared that the Learning Centre was “a sham and a stratagem to deprive him of his land unlawfully.”

The Respondent, in asking the Court to strike out the statements of the Prime Minister in the appellant’s claim form, relied on certain sections of the Constitution, the Privileges Act 1966, the Evidence Act of 1988 and Article 9 of the Bill of Rights, 1689. Their Lordships in their discussion referred to Article 9 of the Bill of Right and the broader common law as given in the New Zealand case of Prebble v Television New Zealand Ltd. [1995] 1AC. They also referred to comments of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, on the effect of a prohibition on questioning of issues “out of parliament”. They pointed to a number of cases where the House of Lords stated that use may be made of ministerial statements in judicial review proceedings. Their Lordships posit section 3 and 16 of the Privileges Act 1966, which grant immunity to the Speaker of the House against the Appellant’s constitutional rights to property and to non-discriminatory treatment. They felt that “fairness, publicity and promptness” were guarantees that would be meaningless in the absence of protection for access to the court.

(To be continued)

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]

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