AN Appeal Court judge has dismissed an application by a woman who was ordered to give up a Housing Development (HDC) unit in Chaguanas that she had illegally occupied, rent-free, for almost a decade.
In May, Justice Ricky Rahim ordered Esther Cruickshank to give up possession of a three-bedroom single-family unit at Lot 807, Onyx Circular, Edinburgh 500, Chaguanas.
Cruickshank had alleged former housing minister Dr Roodal Moonilal allocated the unit to her in 2012 after she told him she needed housing to escape a family situation.
Her evidence was that the HDC told her the property was leased to someone else, but she contended the minister assured her the situation was being worked out in her favour.
With the change of government in 2015, she claimed tried several times to follow up on her status with the new minister, but was unsuccessful.
Cruickshank also claimed she spent $275,000 on the property and an additional $2,500 a month to maintain it.
In 2019, the HDC started legal proceedings to recover the property.
Cruickshank appealed Rahim’s ruling, applied for a stay of execution of his orders and asked for her appeal to be expedited.
But Justice of Appeal Vasheist Kokaram dismissed her applications, saying there was no evidence of any risk of injustice to Cruickshank if a stay was refused, nor anything in her appeal that would warrant its jumping the queue over other appeals.
In his ruling, Kokaram said on reading Rahim’s judgment, there was no “plain error illustrated” in his analysis of the case before him.
On the application for the stay, he also said Rahim’s ruling showed Cruickshank had an alternative residence and there was no evidence that the property would be leased to someone else.
In any case, he said, the property was already leased to a third party.
"The only issue in this claim was the nature of the appellant’s interest in the property and how any equitable claim can be satisfied.”
Kokaram also expressed concern over a letter Cruickshank presented in her appeal application which was not presented in the trial before Rahim.
The letter, written by Moonilal, was dated June 15, 2023, and purportedly said Cruickshank’s name was on a list of people in dire need of state housing.
“My immediate concern with this evidence, subject to proving its authenticity, is that it was not admitted into evidence before the trial judge."
He said it had been written long after the trial ended "and appears, on its face, to be a response to the trial judge’s decision granting possession to the respondent.”
He said Cruickshank will face difficulty in explaining why the former minister was not involved in the trial in the court below.
The trial judge had legitimately criticised the absence of any evidence from the minister, which cast doubt on the veracity of Cruickshank's evidence of any promises he had made "and gave the trial judge a basis to draw adverse inferences against her.
“Her lack of evidence to prove any promise at the trial led to her downfall.”
Cruickshank was represented by attorney Kenneth Munroe Brown.
Kerwyn Garcia and Melissa Sinanan represented the HDC.