Hall of Justice

The State has been ordered to pay $175,000 in compensation to a retired couple from Rio Claro, whose property was earmarked to be acquired for the construction of a highway before the route was changed.

Delivering a judgement virtually, yesterday morning, High Court Judge Frank Seepersad ruled that Andrew and Gabriella Rodriguez’s constitutional right to the enjoyment of their property was infringed as the Government failed to adhere to due process when it signalled its intention to acquire a portion of their property under the Land Acquisition Act.

According to the evidence in the case, the couple learned that the Government was interested in acquiring the majority of their 46-acre estate at Teemul Trace, Union Village, Rio Claro in August 2013, after they applied for planning permission from the Town and Country Planning Division.

The couple wrote numerous correspondence to the Ministry of Works and Transport and other Government agencies before they were eventually informed that their land was no longer required in May 2017.

In his judgement, Seepersad said that the notification to the couple was based on a speculative assessment of the project.

“In essence, the claimants were made to adopt a holding position, for nearly four years, in relation to the possible development of 36 acres of their land. The constitutional rights of citizens cannot be compromised while the State fashions its policy positions or alters previous policy plans,” Seepersad said.

He also suggested that proper national planning would prevent such an occurrence from repeating.

“The establishment of national infrastructural development plans may insulate against arbitrary policy changes especially when there is a change of administration and such a course may well serve to protect the public purse and lead to improved governance,” Seepersad said.

In assessing the compensation to be paid to the couple, Seepersad noted that while they were unable to subdivide the land during the period, they were not prevented from cleaning, traversing or accessing it.

“The Claimants provided no evidence before this Court as to the condition of the said property pre-2013 and the Court is unable to make any assessment as to whether the physical condition of the land deteriorated from October 2013 to May 2017,” Seepersad said.

Seepersad eventually calculated the damages using the $39,000 annual rental value of the property.

As part of his decision, Seepersad ordered the State to pay the couple’s legal costs for bringing the lawsuit.

He also placed a 28-day stay on the judgement.

The couple was represented by Raisa Caesar and Zelica Haynes-Soo Hon, while the Office of the Attorney General was unrepresented in the case.