April 19, 2012:
The Ministry of Works and Infrastructure wishes to draw the public’s attention to a recent ruling of the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago dated April 17, 2012 in the matter of Tana and Curtis Gayadeen vs The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago. The Ministry is of the view that the ruling of the Honourable Madame Justice Rajnauth-Lee bears profound significance to the grave issue of illegal occupation of highway reserve lands in Trinidad and Tobago. In other words, lands that were acquired by the State for the purpose of building a roadway but have not yet been entirely used for the purpose for which they were acquired. The Ministry hopes that the ruling of the high court will serve as a reminder to all, that illegal occupation of the highway reserve will not create a claim of right over the lands for the occupants and accordingly, entitles them to compensation should the State require their removal to engage in road expansion works.
The national community will recall that during the years 2010 and 2011, expansion works were being conducted along the Churchill Roosevelt Highway from O’meara Road to the Santa Rosa pillars by the Ministry’s PURE unit. These works were necessary in order to increase road capacity and to alleviate traffic congestions being experienced by citizens who use this highway on a regular basis. Preliminary surveys were done to determine the co-ordinates of the availability of the State’s highway reserve lands in order to facilitate the said construction works. In so doing, it was discovered that certain persons were illegally occupying highway reserve lands located at the corner of Churchill Roosevelt Highway and Tumpuna Road. As a result, notices to vacate were served upon the occupants in accordance with the Highways Act Chapter 48:01. Some of the occupants agreed to remove their structures after the Ministry agreed to pay an ex gratia sum in order to cushion the economic impact the dislocation caused to their livelihood and that of their families since, most of the residents occupied the properties for over 25 years.
However, a popular bar located in the area and owned by Tana and Curtis Gayadeen refused the State’s offer of an ex gratia sum and asserted that they were the legal owners of the lands because of the number of years they and their predecessors were in undisturbed occupation. The Ministry contended that the lands were highway reserve since 1945 and thus a public right of way was created which could not be defeated or extinguished by their prolonged occupation. The occupants persisted in their claim and demanded million of dollars in compensation which the Ministry refused to pay because of the advice and guidance provided by our own in-house Legal Services Unit.
The occupants proceeded to file an action in the high court against the State asking for several declarations including the following:
• That the State has no right, title or interest in the premises;
• That they are owners of the land;
• Compensation for breach of their constitutional rights;
• Damages for trespass
The State contended that the disputed lands were compulsory acquired in 1945 for the public purpose of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway and that by virtue of such acquisition, a public right of way was established over the lands. The State further contended that this right of way was indefeasible and could not be extinguished by the occupants’ claim of possessory title or adverse possession.
The Court heard arguments on both sides and agreed with the State’s position in the matter and declared inter alia:
• that the claimants occupation of the lands did not bring to an end the public’s rights over the land and thus the claimants have no right, title or interest in the lands which can defeat or extinguish the dedication of the said lands as a public right of way;
• the claimants to immediately give vacant possession of the lands to the State; and
• the claimant to pay the State legal costs to be certified by the courts.
The Ministry expresses gratitude to its competent legal team for the professional support provided throughout this matter and kindly asks the national community to take relevant notice of this landmark ruling.