FORMER Udecott chairman Calder Hart’s challenge of the Las Alturas Commission of Inquiry’s findings of its report on the controversial housing development has started in his absence.
Hart took legal action in February 2017,after the report, which was laid in Parliament in September the year before, said he should be held responsible for the failed $26 million towers. The trial of the former Udecott boss’s claim against the commission began yesterday before Justice David Harris at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain.
The commission was set up to investigate “the entire process which led to the construction of the Las Alturas Towers at Lady Young Gardens, Morvant, and all other acts, matters or decisions done or undertaken incidental to and including the construction” of the project, which included the procurement process.
Two multi-storey units of the housing project began falling apart after they were built and the $26 million towers were earmarked for demolition. They were part of a larger project, which was originally budgeted at $65 million and then rose to $90 million.
The commission was chaired by former Justice of Appeal Mustapha Ibrahim and included civil engineers Dr Myron Wing-Sang Chin and Anthony Farrell, both of whom were in court yesterday. Ibrahim died in June 2017.
Early in the hearing, attorneys for the commissioners, led by Richard Clayton, QC, asked that Hart’s entire claim be struck out because of his failure to attend the trial. Clayton, who appears with attorneys Rowan Pennington Benton, of the UK Bar, Gerald Ramdeen, Vishaal Siewsaran and Alvin Pariagsingh, reminded the judge of his order, during a hearing for the management of the case, that it was necessary for Hart to attend the trial.
After rising for ten minutes, Harris returned and questioned Hart’s attorney, Jamaican QC Dr Lloyd Barnett, on his client’s absence and what it could mean for the case.
Barnett, who appears with attorneys Anthony Bullock and Tecla Duncan-Caines, said his instructions were that the court never made an order for his client to be present, but even so, the matter before the court was a judicial review claim in which there will be no cross-examination so attendance was not necessary and was simply a formality.
He also pointed out that the evidence to be relied on in the case will be in the form of documentary evidence, including affidavits. Hart currently lives in Fort Lauderdale in the United States, where he has been since his resignation in 2010.
Also yesterday, a January 25 application by the commissioners challenging the presence of the Attorney General as an interested party was also strongly objected to by Hart’s attorneys and those for the AG, who is represented by Fyard Hosein, SC, Rishi Dass and Amrita Ramsook.
The commissioners are alleging bias on the part of the AG because he is a former director of the Housing Development Corporation; that his presence in the case was not that of an independent or neutral party because he was supporting Hart’s claim, and that, soon after he assumed office, he commissioned a legal opinion from Hosein which was highly critical of the work of the commission. They also argued that his position is partisan.
Hart is also arguing that he was never given an opportunity to respond, suffered loss to his reputation and faced the possibility that a civil claim could be initiated against him based on the report’s recommendations.
The trial continues today.