State ordered to compensate dump-truck owner for vehicle's illegal detention

Hall of Justice, Port of Spain. - File photo/Roger Jacob
Hall of Justice, Port of Spain. - File photo/Roger Jacob

THE COURT of Appeal has ordered the State to compensate a dump-truck owner whose vehicle was seized and kept by police since 2019, while investigations of illegal quarrying in the Wallerfield area were taking place.

In a written ruling last week, Justices of Appeal Allan Mendonca and James Aboud ordered the State to compensate Edasco Ltd for the wrongful detention of the dump truck from September 30, 2019, to September 15, 2021, to be assessed by a Master of the High Court.

However, the court ordered that a judge’s ruling in 2021 to enter judgment in favour of Edasco Ltd after agreeing to strike out the State’s amended defence, be set aside.

This means the State can file and serve a re-amended defence, however, it must do so without the evidence relating to the period of detention.

It was the appeal of the Attorney General that the judge was wrong to strike out its amended defence in the lawsuit filed by Edasco in 2020.

It was the State’s contention that the dump truck was lawfully detained by police as part of investigations into illegal quarrying and was no longer in its possession but that of the magistrate’s courts since charges had been laid.

It also contended that the truck’s owner had remedies under the State Lands Act to recover the vehicle.

In its ruling, the court pointed out that no charges were ever laid against Edasco Ltd and the truck was eventually returned to its owner in September 2021, before its lawsuit was determined.

In striking out the State’s defence, the High Court judge noted that the Minerals Act, under which certain persons were charged and the truck seized, did not contain a power to seize and detain a vehicle that might have been used in connection with the offence.

The judge also did not accept the State’s argument that it could not release the truck since it was under the magistrate’s jurisdiction. The charges in the magistrates’ court were eventually dismissed against those before the court. However, it was the State’s argument on the appeal that it was possible they could be reinstated on appeal.

On this submission, Mendonca, who wrote the decision, held,” If that were to occur, we do not see how that is relevant to this claim.

“If the suggestion is that the police may again seize and detain the dump truck, that will give rise to a new cause of action and is not part of this claim.”

He said it was for the State to justify its refusal to deliver the dump truck immediately after the charges in the magistrates’ court were dismissed.

He said there was nothing in the State’s submissions to justify a refusal to do so.

“The fact is that any continued detention of the dump truck after the dismissal of the charges, or, for that matter, since the charges were laid, has not been justified by anything contained in the amended defence or advanced orally or in writing. The continued detention of the dump truck after the dismissal of the charges was tortious.”

The State was represented by attorneys Sanjeev Lalla, Sanjiv Sookoo, Chelvi Ramkissoon and Nisa Simmons while Gerald Ramdeen and Dayadai Harripaul represented Edasco Ltd.

The State was also ordered to pay Edasco’s costs in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal.


"State ordered to compensate dump-truck owner for vehicle’s illegal detention"

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