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National Trust Takes Government to Court

THE row between the Saint Lucia National Trust and the Government of Saint Lucia over the latter’s decision to demolish the Castries prison, formerly known as the Royal Gaol, is still ongoing, evidenced by papers filed in the High Court on Tuesday by the former.

The Trust is asking the court relief in respect of the decision of the Government to demolish the prison, an act that was completed on 23 May 2020.

The defendants in this matter are the Attorney General, The Development Control Authority and the Commissioner of Crown Lands.

The Trust, in its affidavit wants the court to recognize that the defendants were in breach of an Undertaking agreed upon by both parties. The agreed Undertaking was that the Trust had to be part and parcel of any decision by the government regarding the prison.

The Trust, in its affidavit noted that it had no prior knowledge of the demolition nor did any citizen of Saint Lucia. And that the demolition was carried out without the completion of the consultation process with it as agreed and as set out in the Undertaking of 24th October 2018, and without the implantation of various terms of the Undertaking by the defendants.

The Trust further went on to state that the demolition was contrary to the principles of fairness and good governance, amounted to an abuse of power, was carried out in bad faith and has caused the irreplaceable loss of a cherished piece of Saint Lucia’s history, heritage and patrimony.

The Trust is seeking damages from the court such as general damages (including the recovery of costs for claims withdrawn in the High Court pursuant to the Undertaking breached). Also being sought are aggravated damages, due to the motives and conduct of defendants, exemplary damages to reflect the proper indignation of the public and to reflect disapproval and costs.

According to the Trust, the buildings known as the Castries Prison, formerly the Royal Gaol, were one of the oldest known standing structures in the City of Castries, which were completed in 1827. These buildings which included a burial ground were designated by the Trust’s Council as being of prehistoric, historic and archaeological interest. These buildings were also so designated by historians who stated that the Royal Gaol was actually built using the remains of an earlier French structure which may well be as old as the structures built at Morne Fortune, Castries in the 1760s.

The Trust, in its affidavit, stated that it noticed demolition works on the Castries Prison buildings accelerating between 8th September 2018 and 9th September 2019. And that the demolition works were being undertaken by a Mr. Cyril Dornelly, a contractor hired by the Government of Saint Lucia.

On 9th September 2018, the Trust noted it was granted an injunction restraining Mr. Dornelly from demolishing or continuing to demolish the buildings and burial ground known as the Castries Prison. Further, on 17th September 2018, by Claim No. SLUHCV2018/0439 it made an application for leave to file a judicial review claim to review the decisions of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy and Labour, the Development Control Authority and the Commissioner of Crown Lands to approve the demolition works of the Castries prison as irregular and procedurally improper.

By a meeting on 10th October 2018, chaired by the Honourable Mr. Lenard Montoute, Prime Minister (Ag), the Trust, defendants and Dornelly arrived at a solution. It was decided that there was to be a Consent Order filed at the Court to resolve the dispute. The Trust claimed that although agreed upon, the government representatives took issue with the Consent Order as it would become public once filed at the High Court of Saint Lucia.

The Trust said it agreed at the behest of the Attorney General to instead accept a legal undertaking in place of the Consent Order.
By letter dated 24th October 2018 and signed by the Attorney General, as the representative of and/on behalf of the Government of Saint Lucia, the other defendants, the Trust and Dornelly it was agreed by legal undertaking that the Trust would discharge the injunction and withdraw the application for leave to file a judicial review claim with no liability for damages and no order as to costs (“the Undertaking”). It was further agreed by the Undertaking, that the Trust would be consulted and given the opportunity to make comments and recommendations at various points of the project.

The Trust’s affidavit showed on 24th October 2018, the Trust complied with their obligation in that it withdrew the application for leave to file a claim for judicial review and discharged the injunction by Consent Order dated 24th October 2018. On 25th February 2019, the Trust, a government team and architects had a second meeting where it was agreed that the Royal Gaol would be incorporated by re-purposing the old building into the new development in order to preserve its heritage. The parties thereafter conducted a site visit of the Royal Gaol where the Trust made recommendations.

The affidavit claimed that since the meeting of the 25th February 2019, there had been no further communication with the government team and the Trust has not been presented with the final plans for development contrary to what was agreed to in section 5 of the Undertaking dated 24 October 2018.

The Trust stated that it had no prior knowledge of the demolition nor did any citizen of Saint Lucia. The demolition was carried out without the completion of the consultation process with it and as agreed and as set out in the Undertaking of 24th October 2018, and without the implantation of various terms of the Undertaking by the Defendants.

The Trust is of the view that the Undertaking, dated 24th October 2018, was agreed to and signed by all the parties and therefore is legally binding on all of them.

Further, by virtue of the Undertaking, it was agreed that the defendants would not undertake to demolish the Royal Gaol until the consultation and recommendation process between the Trust and the government team, as set out in the Undertaking, was completed.

The Demolition of the Royal Gaol was carried out and without prior knowledge of the Claimant and without completion of the consultation process as agreed to in the Undertaking of 24th October 2018. Further, the defendants decision(s)/action(s) in ordering, permitting, allowing, directing, engaging the contractor or person to demolish the Royal Gaol was in breach of the Undertaking, and was repudiatory, and was a doing of the very thing undertaken not to be done and is plainly wrong in law.

The Trust is of the view that the defendants ought to have complied with the Undertaking whereby they should have provided the Trust with the formal plans for development so that the Trust could give recommendations and comments. The Trust were never provided with plans to review and make recommendations as was agreed by the Undertaking of 241” October 2018.

The Trust also believes that the Development Control Authority acted in bad faith in allowing the demolition of the buildings at the Castries Prison knowing the obligations under the Undertaking were yet to be fulfilled. Further, that the Attorney General in ordering the demolition of the Royal Gaol utterly disregarded the State’s obligations under the Undertaking signed and therefore acted contrary to fairness and good governance and abused its power.

Also the Royal Gaol was demolished in a quick fashion, thereby permanently altering the state of affairs and rendering the Undertaking nugatory.

Micah George is an established name in the journalism landscape in St. Lucia. He started his journalism tutelage under the critical eye of the Star Newspaper Publisher and well known journalist, Rick Wayne, as a freelancer. A few months later he moved to the Voice Newspaper under the guidance of the paper’s recognized editor, Guy Ellis in 1988.

Since then he has remained with the Voice Newspaper, progressing from a cub reporter covering court cases and the police to a senior journalist with a focus on parliamentary issues, government and politics. Read full bio...

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