The Caribbean Court of Justice promotes access to justice for the poor

Ms. Coreen Sinclair who was also very poor, and who was the daughter and administratrix of the estate of Ms Ross’s friend, paid the balance of money owing for the apartment to the Authorities.  She claimed possession and ownership of the apartment. 

The Guyanese Courts awarded Ms. Sinclair the right to the property. The Court of Appeal of Guyana said that once Ms. Sinclair had paid the balance, the apartment passed to her mother’s estate, and the Authority was required to pass ownership to her. The Court said that it was unreasonable and a breach of legitimate expectations for the Authority to sell the apartment to Ms Ross. The Court therefore invalidated the same to Ms Ross. This meant that Ms. Ross would have had to move out of the apartment.

The Guyana Court of Appeal gave Ms Ross permission to appeal their decision to the Caribbean Court of Justice but only on the condition that she deposit Guy$100,000.00 as security for costs if she lost the appeal. Ms. Ross was unable to afford that amount. She applied directly to the CCJ for permission to appeal as a poor person. An appellant who appeals as a poor person does not have to pay security for costs or any Court fees.

Ms. Sinclair’s lawyer argued that it was outside the CCJ’s jurisdiction to hear a `stand alone’ application for “leave to appeal as a poor person”, and that such an application could only be made to the CCJ if it accompanied an application for special leave to appeal. The CCJ disagreed.

The CCJ said that there was nothing in its Rules of Court that expressly barred the application and the court had the power to grant it because if it were not granted the applicant could be shut out from accessing justice.  The Court reasoned that to require Ms Ross to make a new application would have been to place an additional burden on her which she could not afford. The CCJ stated that it “has the residual power to grant the order sought, however the power would only be exercised when necessary to eliminate a real risk of a miscarriage of justice.”  The CCJ therefore granted the application of Ms. Ross to appeal as a poor person.

This case demonstrates the commitment of the Caribbean Court of Justice to providing access to justice for the poor and underprivileged. In its written judgment, the CCJ also commended the lawyers on both sides for representing the two ladies pro bono. The Court was able to spare the parties the costs of travelling to the Court’s headquarters in Trinidad by having most of the hearings conducted via audio conference.

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