Last Updated on Thursday, 25 February 2021, 17:33 by Denis Chabrol
In a judgment delivered on Thursday, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) urged the Guyana government to urgently consider reform of the Deeds Registry Act.
The Trinidad-headquartered court issued the recommendation in a decision that allowed the appeal of Merlene Todd in the matter of Todd v Price and Jeboo and confirmed Ms. Todd’s title to a parcel of land in Georgetown.
Allan Price, now deceased, owned the West Half of Lot 153 Queenstown, Georgetown.
In February 2004, Ann Jennifer Jeboo, claiming to act on behalf of Price, used a Power of Attorney to sell the lands to Todd, who obtained a transport , a type of document which shows ownership of land.
It was subsequently discovered that the Power of Attorney was fake and Jeboo was convicted of fraud. Price sued both Jeboo and Todd in the High Court seeking to set aside the sale and have the transport declared void.
Under the Deeds Registry Act, a person loses his or her land once a transport is registered at the Deeds Registry unless fraud is proved on the part of the holder of the new transport. Allan Price died in 2010 and the proceedings were thereafter carried on by his widow, Desiree Price, on behalf of his estate. On the 30 August 2012, the trial judge dismissed the action against Todd but awarded damages to the estate of Allan Price against Jeboo.
Desiree Price appealed this decision and asked the Court of Appeal to find that Todd was a part of the fraud. Todd resisted the appeal on the ground that High Court proceedings had not been conducted on the basis that she was a part of Jeboo’s fraud. On the16 March 2020, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and found that Todd’s gross negligence made her a part of the fraud. The court declared that the transport was null and void. Todd appealed to the CCJ arguing that the Court of Appeal was wrong to find that she was a part of the fraud. She asked the CCJ to set aside the Court of Appeal’s decision and restore the trial judge’s decision.
The CCJ’s judgment was delivered by Justices Anderson and Barrow. The Justices found that there was no allegation before the trial judge that Todd was part of Jeboo’s fraud and that she had, therefore, not been given an opportunity to defend herself against these allegations. It was, therefore, unfair to allow those allegations to be made at the appellate stage of the trial. The Justices held that gross negligence was not the same as fraud and that, in any case, Todd had also not been given the opportunity to respond to allegations of gross negligence. In these circumstances, the Court of Appeal was wrong to find that Todd was a part of the fraud. The Justices further observed that the Court of Appeal also made errors in the way in which it conducted its fact-finding exercise and was not entitled to overturn the findings of fact which were made by the trial judge. Finding that the original landowner had been deprived of his land through no fault of his own, Justice Anderson expressed that this showcased the need for legislative reform.
Separate judgments were delivered by Justices Wit and Jamadar, who both reasoned that the approaches to the law as well as the outcome of this appeal, did not seem satisfactory or just. The Justices suggested that a) there may be other legal approaches that could have resulted in different outcomes and explored those possibilities and b) that the legislature should review and amend the Deeds Registry Act to refine or improve the law to meet the needs of current land law realities in Guyana. Justice Jamadar also suggested that the Deeds Registry Act needs to be reviewed and an assessment made whether it passes constitutional muster in Guyana, and if not, what modifications are required to do so, explaining why this should be done.
Todd’s appeal was therefore allowed, and the orders of the Court of Appeal of Guyana set aside and the Orders of the Chief Justice, restored, including the order as to costs. The appeal was heard by the Honourable Justices Wit, Anderson, Barrow, Burgess and Jamadar.