– Chief Justice rules, awards costs to farmers
Chief Justice (ag) Roxanne George SC on Monday ruled that the revocation of leases for lands used by farmers for rice cultivation in Seafield, West Coast Berbice, by President David Granger is illegal, since it violates Article 142 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana.
The three farmers, Phillip Johnson, Rawle Miller and Rupert Blackman of Seafield, West Coast Berbice, had been embroiled in legal battles over lease lands, used for rice cultivation in the area.
The farmlands amount to just over 25 acres and are situated at the North Main Canal in the rear of Plantation Seafield, West Coast Berbice.
The farmers had initially taken court action against Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) after the board revoked their lease last year.
In February 2016, Former Chief Justice Ian Chang granted orders quashing the decision made by the MMA/ADA to cancel the leases. The court found that it was not up to the MMA/ADA to determine the legal validity or invalidity of the leases, and then to purport to cancel them on the basis of its own legal finding. The order was made absolute in February 2016, but the leases were still cancelled by the authority in March 2016 without any appeals being filed.
The farmers then returned to the High Court to pronounce the President’s actions as unlawful, and to award damages for the breach of their constitutional rights.
The group of independent rice cultivators through Attorneys at Law, Anil Nandlall, Rajendra Jaigobin and Manoj Narayan, contended that MMA/ADA’s revocation of their leases had been discriminatory, arbitrary and capricious.
Attorney General Basil Williams SC and MMA/ADA were named as the respondents in the matter and were represented by Attorney-at-Law Judy Stuart-Adonis.
The leases were issued under the hand of former President Donald Ramotar in 2014 and 2015.
Justice George, in her ruling, outlined that the revocation of the leases were unconstitutional and null and void. The Chief Justice further outlined that from the outset the revocation of the leases were invalid.
In the course of her ruling, the Chief Justice granted a permanent conservatory order restraining servants and agents of the Mahaica/Mahaicony Abary Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) or any other officer of the state from entering upon, remaining, occupying, or in any other manner whatsoever from interfering with the applicants quiet and peaceful possession of the land.
The Chief Justice also awarded cost in the sum of $300,000 to each of the farmers.
In addition, the Chief Justice refused to grant the farmers $5M each in damages for the infringement of their fundamental rights which they had contended.
Although the Chief Justice acknowledged that the farmers’ fundamental rights were infringed upon, she ruled that no evidence was led to prove damages.
Last year, in three separate constitutional motions, the farmers sought a declaration that the decision of the President to cancel Lease of State Land for Agriculture Purpose issued under Section 3(b) of the State Lands Act, Chapter 62:01, and in accordance with the Mahaica/Mahaicony Abary Agricultural Development Authority is contrary to and in violation of Article 142 of the Constitution of Guyana, is unlawful, null, void and of no effect.
They sought to have a declaration by the court that the decision of the President cancelling Lease of State Land for Agriculture Purpose issued under Section 3(b) of the State Lands Act, Chapter 62:01, and in accordance with the MMA/ADA in respect to the plots of land amount to the compulsorily acquisition of their leasehold interest thereof without the prompt payment of any or adequate compensation, as is guaranteed by Article 142 of the Constitution of Guyana.
They said they were asked to remove from the lands. They said that by this time they had cultivated rice crops, which were ready for reaping. They said that on April 11, 2016, a woman identified as Flavo Farina, without their permission, reaped the paddy, resulting in their suffering losses and damages.
Additionally, the applicants each claimed damages to the tune of $5 million for breach of their fundamental rights and freedoms as guaranteed by Articles 142 and 153 of the Constitution of Guyana.
Miller had estimated his losses and damages at $346,500, Johnson estimated his at $692,500, while Blackman estimates his at $619,000.
They also asked for a Conservatory Order prohibiting servants and/or agents of the MMA/ADA, a public statutory authority, or any other Officer of the State, from entering upon, remaining, occupying or in any manner whatsoever interfering with the Applicant’s quiet and peaceful possession, occupation and enjoyment of Lease of State Lands for Agriculture Purpose issued under Section 3(b) of the State Lands Act, Chapter 62:01, and in accordance with the Mahaica/Mahaicony Abary Agricultural Development Authority Act for the said plots of land.
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