A High Court judge expressed concern on Wednesday that the State had failed to disclose crucial documents in a matter where a Hindu religious group had claimed entitlement to a parcel of State land on which their temple and ashram were erected.
Justice Frank Seepersad was expected to give a ruling in the matter in the San Fernando Civil Court yesterday but the disclose of the new information in effect terminated the case.
The State at the last minute disclosed two Cabinet minutes revealing that a decision was taken to grant the lease to the group before they even initiated legal action, but the lease was rescinded last month.
The Las Lomas No 2 Devotional Ramayan Group filed the claim seeking a declaration that they were entitled to the land and that they had a binding agreement with the Commissioner of State Land for the lease of the one-acre of land owned by the State at plot No 40 Caroni South Bank Road, Las Lomas No 2. The action was filed against the Attorney General in 2016 after the group’s president Param Basdeo Maraj made several unsuccessful attempts over the years to be issued with a deed of lease for the land. The group’s attorney sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Commissioner of State Lands but got no response.
The judge noted with concern that in the documents filed in the court matter the State failed to disclose a Cabinet minute dated March 12, 2015, in which a decision was taken to grant the lease to the group.
The judge was further alarmed that another Cabinet minute dated February 14—five days before the State filed supplemental documents—in which a decision was taken to rescind the lease, was also not disclosed. The documents, according to the group’s attorney Alvin Pariagsingh, were only disclosed after he sent an email on March 21, to the State’s attorney informing her that personnel from the Commissioner of State Lands had approached his client indicating that the structures on the land were scheduled to be demolished on March 23. The Commissioner, however, subsequently gave an undertaking to halt any action until the determination of the court matter.
The judge questioned whether the State was playing a game of hide and seek.
“There must be the presumption of regularity in how litigation involving the State is done.”
Reinforcing that there must be full and frank disclosure, he said the non-disclosure of the documents were unacceptable especially since the documents would have been under the control of the defendant (State).
“It raises a sense of disquiet in court’s mind the veracity in the way that obligation would have discharged,” the judge said.
The State’s attorney Kelisha Bello said the documents were disclosed by them (the attorneys) as soon they were brought to their attention.
The judge said the omission was something that warrants a review although there may be a perfectly legitimate explanation why the documents were not disclosed.
Pariagsingh said his client will now to file a new claim regarding the Cabinet decision to rescind the lease, but he was concerned that the State may move to demolish the temple and ashram.
The judge adjourned the matter to next Wednesday for the parties to come to a consensus on the demolition order.
The judge would also be deciding on costs.
Reporter: Sascha Wilson