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The general approach of the Court of Appeal

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The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court is based in St Lucia, but it is an itinerant court that sits about three times per year in the nine states and territories that it serves. It provides a forum for those persons who are dissatisfied with the decision of the High Courts and the magistrates’ courts. When necessary, the court of appeal would explain its role in matters before it. The nature of its role was stated in the Anguillan case of Webster v Dunbar, No. 4 of 2011.{{more}} In the fact pattern, the Appellant appealed against the decision of the first instance court because he was dissatisfied with the allocation of the beneficiary shares in a property (that was registered in his name) and other assets.

The court’s decision was delivered by acting justice of the appeal Justice Paul Webster and was concurred by Justice Janice Pereira (acting CJ) and Justice Davidson Kelvin Baptiste. In this case, the learned judge quoted the two past Chief Justices Sir Hugh Rawlins and Sir Dennis Byron, who subscribed to the same principle in relation to role of the court of appeal.

The basic principle that the judges espoused is that the appellate court will not impeach the finding of facts made by the first instance courts, except in limited circumstances. The reason for this is that the judge in the High Court or the magistrate in the magistrate’s court would hear the evidence firsthand. Being the chief fact finders, they would have heard the witnesses and observed their demeanour. The limited circumstances are where “the trial judge misdirects himself or herself and draws erroneous inferences from the facts. In that instance, an appellate court is in as good a position as the trial judge to evaluate the evidence and determine what inference should be drawn from the proved facts. (Webster v Dunbar, p.2)

In Michael v Michael (Antigua Barbuda, No.15 of 2008 Court of Appeal) CJ Rawlins quoted the information from Golfview Development Ltd. v St. Kitts Development Corporation and Another (No 17 of 2004). He agreed that these were settled principles relating to the role of the court of appeal. He further stated that “an appellant court may, however, interfere in a case where the reasons given by the judge is not satisfactory. Where there is an appeal against the finding of facts the burden on the appellant is a very heavy one. An appellate court would only interfere if it finds that the first instance court was clearly and blatantly wrong.”

The appeal court in Webster v Dunbar interfered and before reaching a decision, it explored the many ways in which a person may have a beneficiary interest in a property. Accordingly, a person who does not have the legal title to a property has to prove that there was a common intention between the parties that they should share the beneficial interest and on that common intention they acted to their detriment. Common intention can be established by direct evidence of an agreement that the parties without the legal title will have the beneficial interest.

In the present case there is direct evidence establishing common intention to own the property jointly.” The court of appeal agreed with the trial judge that the respondent had a beneficiary interest in the property and other assets, but disagreed with the proportion of the shares and instead of a 25 per cent share the respondent was given a 10 per cent share in the property that was in contention.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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