The state has been ordered to pay almost $3 million in compensation to a businessman whose tractors were improperly seized by police as part of an investigation into illegal quarrying on State land in east Trinidad.
Delivering a written judgment during a virtual hearing yesterday, High Court Judge Frank Seepersad upheld Faizal Ali’s multi-million dollar lawsuit over the continued illegal detention of his excavator and crawler tractors.
According to the evidence, in September 2015, Ali rented the equipment to a company that was seeking to dig ponds in Guaico, Sangre Grande for tilapia farming.
The following month, police and soldiers raided the job site and seized the equipment as part of an investigation into illegal quarrying on state land.
Although Ali was not among the trio that was eventually charged by police and requested that the tractors be returned, they remained detained at the T&T Defence Force base in Cumuto.
In his judgment, Seepersad noted that under the State Lands Act, police officers are allowed to seize vehicles and equipment which are suspected of carrying material from state lands without permission.
However, Seepersad was careful to note that at the time of the seizure of Ali’s equipment, it was not in use and merely parked at the job site.
He also noted that for such vehicles and equipment to be forfeited by a magistrate under the legislation, people must be convicted of an offence.
Seepersad noted that cases against the trio who were charged, are still ongoing.
“In this case, the failure of the defendant to provide any evidence that the heavy equipment were involved in the activities mentioned in Section 26 of the Act means that the seizure, without warrant, is nothing short of appalling,” Seepersad said.
Seepersad also criticised the police for failing to do proper investigations before continuing the detention.
“Police officers exercise significant authority but they must discharge their authority responsibly and justly,” Seepersad said.
“Where authority has been abused, thereby causing stress, embarrassment and loss upon citizens, the perpetrators must be held accountable,” he added.
While Seepersad accepted that Ali was entitled to compensation for the financial hardship he suffered by not having access to his equipment, Seepersad refused to grant the $6,500 a day for the five year period that the equipment had been detained, which was calculated at well over $10 million.
Seepersad suggested that $2,933,000 was more appropriate as he factored in the age of the equipment, comparable fees charged by competitors, taxes and operational costs including periodic maintenance.
Seepersad also noted that it would be unlikely that the equipment could have been rented by Ali every day during the period, especially due to the downturn in the national economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also ruled that Ali was entitled to $25,000 in exemplary damages, which was awarded by him to highlight the court’s condemnation of the oppressive and arbitrary conduct by officers of the State.
The state was also ordered to pay Ali’s legal costs for the lawsuit, which will be calculated based on the payout he is set to receive.
Ali was represented by Devesh Maharaj and Ravi Dolsingh while Ryanka Ragbir, Kristy Mohan, Adana Hosang, Zara Smith and Andre Cole represented the Office of the Attorney General.