A FAMILY in San Juan has been saved from having an entire floor of their million-dollar business place demolished by the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation.
Justice Vasheist Kokaram ruled that apart from what the law dictates, those who implement it must do so fairly and humanely. Presiding in the San Fernando High Court, the judge said in a 76-page judgment, “In matters of planning control, it is not so much the letter of the law which counts as the manner in which that law is going to be administered.”
The lawsuit, argued by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC, was on behalf of the families of brothers Primnath and Rupnarine Geelal, who owned a three-storey building which held a store, supermarket and residence.
In 2001 the corporation served them notice to show cause why the third floor should not be pulled down. Primnath contended that officials from Town & Country Planning had told him if the building was constructed 40 years ago, it was automatically legitimised.
The corporation responded that the Geelals started constructing the third level in 2006, but Primnath countered that the family had only repaired the roof and wooden flooring, upgraded the kitchen, bedroom and installed windows.
After several meetings, the corporation eventually decided to demolish the third floor. Primnath maintained that the repair work was 40 years old.
Maharaj contended that the corporation did not do a proper enquiry. The corporation defended it, with former attorney general John Jeremie, SC, arguing the case on its behalf.
In his judgment, Kokaram said enforcement action by public bodies must be humane, and the corporation ought to have fully informed itself of all the facts. He questioned whether the corporation made sufficient enquiries, acted within a reasonable time when it discovered the alleged violation; notices were properly drafted; conducted oral hearings; and balanced all competing factors to arrive at a reasonable decision whether to pull down.
He ruled the corporation’s decision violated the Geelal family's rights to fairness by unreasonable and irrational action to demolish an entire floor of a building.