Local justice versus the CCJ – a personal experience

The announcement by the Prime Minister to hold a second referendum in November of this year, in order to accede to the appellate court of the CCJ as a national priority, ahead of fixing the parlous state of the judicial system in Grenada, has prompted me to recall my experience with the local justice system. An experience that is commonplace in Grenada, as ordinary citizens are left to suffer in silence without any avenue of redress, as a result of the broken system.

There are senior citizens whose passing has been hastened, because of pending justice from the courts for many years that never arrived, and others where justice is consciously delayed in anticipation of their passing, which gives credence to the saying “justice delayed is justice denied”, and “justice must not only be done it must be seen to be done”.

Grenadians should not be bamboozled by the recent exhortation of a neighbouring politician who was on island recently and the current propaganda on radio and in the print and electronic media that reads:

“Vote Yes for the Caribbean Court of Justice: More access to justice for all; break the chains of colonialism for one united Caribbean.”

The slogan admonishes us to break the chains of colonialism, but what we have in Grenada today is neocolonialism, where our public access to Grand Anse beach is becoming problematic, when our best lands and natural resource (oil and gas) are given or sold to foreigners for a song.

If the failed1958-60 West Indian Federation, CARICOM, and the OECS have not united us into One Caribbean, I fail to see how joining the appellate court of the CCJ would.

One united Caribbean would only be achieved when political insularity is replaced by a regional mindset and a unified political organisation, in a world where smallness is becoming an existential liability.

The reasons given for the referendum by the proponents of Grenada’s accession to the appellate court of the CCJ in November 2018 have also been debunked by J.K. Roberts in his recent columns titled: “Is Grenada’s CCJ Referendum really about access to justice?” Parts 1-5.

It is recommended that Mr Roberts republish an abridged version of the articles in October 2018 as a public reminder of the saying “All that glitters is not gold.”

What is very interesting is that the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and St Lucia have stated categorically at the end of the CARICOM summit in July that joining the CCJ is not a priority for their countries at this time as there are more pressing matters of the economy that require urgent attention, while the country where the CCJ head office is located, that is in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, does not appear to have any intention of joining the appellate court in the near future: so the question has to be asked why Grenada, with over 50 percent youth unemployment and the huge backlog of cases, is in such a mad rush to join the appellate court of the CCJ. Is there some ulterior motive?

On my return to Grenada in 1987, after living and practicing my profession on three continents, I designed and built my house/home at Point Drive, L’Anse Aux Epines, St George, and lived there with my family for 23 peaceful and enjoyable years, that is up to the time of the following incident beginning in 2010:

My nearest neighbour is located about 25 feet immediately south of my residence, we share a common boundary. It was then the local home of a visiting American professor who lectured from time to time at the St George’s University. After his passing his wife sold the property, which was bought by a local resident Grenadian.

The new owner, one Anthon Antoine, spent several months working on the house, which was not in good maintenance and, as would be expected, he spent long hours repairing and upgrading the property in order to make it his family residence.

This, however, was not the case, as it was discovered that the former residence was converted into an entertainment centre to be rented for “wild” parties. It also came to light that no permission was obtained from the Planning Authority to change the use of the house into an entertainment centre in the heart of a premier residential area.

This precarious situation first manifested itself on the evening of July 2, 2010, when the “boom boxes” of Mr Antoine’s partygoers kept the lower Point Drive neighbourhood awake from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. the next morning. This situation continued at regular intervals, sometimes two or three times per month for well over a year.

Despite several telephone calls to Mr Antoine, who lives peacefully at his other property in L’Anse Aux Epines, and to the South St George Police Station, over the nuisance period, nothing changed – if anything, the noise became louder.

The response from the police, whose motto is to “protect and serve”, was that Mr Antoine had written permission from the said police to hold his “blocko” in a residential neighbourhood despite the Noise Pollution Act, which was enacted many years ago.

In this regard I am not aware of any conviction by the police of persons, for playing disturbing loud music especially late at nights and the wee hours of the morning, although there have been and still are many complaints both on radio and in the print media, since the passing of the Act. Are we living in a lawless society? Mr Antoine, in the meantime, informed me that he “has to make back his money.”

The situation, which resulted in sleepless nights, headaches, nausea and mental fatigue, came to a crescendo when the “blocko” which started from 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 17, 2011, and ended on Sunday, December 18, 2011, at 3:30 a.m, became so intolerable with the boom boxes at full blast and uncontrollable “patrons” under the influence of alcohol and drugs began to “invade” my adjoining car park, thus posing a physical and life threatening danger to my person, my family and my property.

As a result of the above, I sought legal counsel from Mr Ruggles Ferguson of Ciboney Chambers on the morning of December 20, 2011, in order to file an injunction on behalf of myself and the neighbourhood comprising eight residences, to close-down the entertainment centre, and to enjoin the Physical Planning Unit (PPU) in the suit for its continued failure to exercise its authority as empowered by law, in safeguarding the citizens (and) in correcting physical planning violations.

This is a regular occurrence under the current batch of PPU operatives who appear to be intimidated, for one reason or another, while our physical environment continues to deteriorate.

Mr Ferguson advised that to include the Physical Planning Unit in the case would of necessity involve the government of Grenada, which would complicate the matter and it would be prudent to confine it to Mr Antoine at this time. After meeting the high legal fees, the process was completed in December 2011 and the injunction papers were dispatched by the bailiff to serve on Mr Antoine. But Mr Antoine could not be reached as the bailiff was unable to enter the latter’s premises due to unrestrained guard dogs preventing entry.

After several attempts, this scenario made it necessary to advertise the injunction notice in the press in January 2012 as required by law, and Mr Antoine was mandated to uplift the document by a given date. It then took about two years before my document could be filed by the Registry to the Supreme Court due to insufficient secretarial staff.

There were then several hearings (before the judge) at which Mr Antoine was seldom present. At the final hearing on March 7, 2013, the judge – Madam Margaret Mohammed – gave judgement in my favour in the sum of EC$36, 500 + six percent interest.

Mr Antoine’s lawyer requested from my lawyer, who was now Ms Janyika Johnson, an associate member of Ciboney Chambers, a payment schedule; as he contended that Antoine was unable to pay the amount in full although Antoine had by that time sold the property for millions of EC dollars to a Canadian purchaser, but was able to convince my lawyer that he was unable to pay.

I proposed to my lawyer a payment installment of EC$1,000 per month, but between my lawyer and Mr Antoine’s lawyer a decision was reached without my agreement to pay a paltry sum of EC$500 per month. So, at the final hearing the judge recorded that EC$500 per month would be paid by Antoine to me.

This decision was taken in the latter part of 2013, since then Antoine has made sporadic $500 payments, and it has long become evident that he does not intend to honour the judgement. Several letters between 2015 to 2018 in this regard have been written to Mr Ferguson who has not replied to any of my letters. The latest of which is dated August 7, 2018, as to why Ciboney Chambers is not taking action on my behalf to enforce the court judgement.

Except for a phone call acknowledging receipt of the previous letter dated June 15, 2018, no constructive outcome has been forthcoming from Mr Ferguson, who is one of the leading proponents advocating joining the CCJ, while he does not appear to be willing or capable of satisfactorily resolving this local matter.

The standard response from Ciboney Chambers to Antoine’s noncompliance over the years, as indicated in my letters to Ciboney Chambers, is that the matter has to go back to the court, but this has been done on three occasions, and on each occasion lawyers’ fees have to be paid.

The last time we went back to Court was about two years ago in order to have Mr Antoine confined (locked-up) for non-payment. But that did not deter Mr Antoine, as he appears to be very conversant with the court system in Grenada, which does not function.

The confinement document prompted him to make about three $500 payments in order to nullify his arrest, then everything went back to “normal”, as empirical evidence/knowledge has informed him that both the legal structure and the court are unable or not disposed to enforce judgement, so he has taken full advantage of the broken judicial infrastructure with impunity.

Is it not a waste of time, resources and energy, after paying thousands of dollars in legal fees to be denied due process after obtaining judgement that appears to be unenforceable? Can the CCJ solve this long-suffering injustice, which is a common Grenadian problem that requires to be addressed in 2018 by our legislature? That is where the priority should be.

So, the question is again asked: why is Grenada in such a mad rush to join the appellate CCJ, when the local judicial structure is in shambles, and justice cannot be delivered/received or if ever at great expense after an agonisingly long period by the ordinary Grenadian citizen?

The whole justice system needs overhauling, including the police, legal professional and ethical representation, the efficient functioning of the Registry, the regular sitting of the Magistracy, the High and the Supreme Courts and the prompt delivery and enforcement of judgements.

This can be achieved by the government, in fulfilling its mandate/obligation by providing suitable and adequate accommodation and facilities with appropriate legislation as required, for the proper functioning of the judiciary as a national progressive perquisite in advance of the CCJ.

At this stage of our development, Grenada can ill afford the luxury of continued political posturing, but rather the offering of a sincere and patriotic vision for our empowerment in order to move forward, while at the same time, “breaking the chains of neocolonialism.”

Norris Mitchell

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