This Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has advised local judges to stop holding up cases in order to conclude interim appeals related to the same matter.
The Trinidad and Tobago-based CCJ declared its position today as it handed down its ruling in the case of Smith versus Selby, which clarified the definition of “cohabitant spouse”.
The CCJ, Barbados’ final appellate court which replaced the British Privy Council, “dissuaded the use of this practice except in circumstances where it was necessary after a full consideration of the relevant factors”, the regional court said in a release.
In its ruling, the CCJ held that Katrina Smith should be considered the spouse of her late partner, Albert Michael Selby.
The court found that based on the definition of spouse under Barbados’ Succession Act, a single woman who has cohabited for the statutory period of five years immediately preceding the death of her cohabitant partner has the right to inherit from him on his death, provided he was a single man.
The matter, which was filed at the CCJ in March, centred on the interpretation of the Succession Act which states: “For the purposes of this Act, reference to a ‘spouse’ includes a single woman who was living together with a single man as his wife for a period of not less than five years immediately preceding the date of his death.”
The CCJ examined the legislative regime that existed prior to the Act and noted that before its enactment, the law excluded the survivor of a cohabitational relationship from benefiting on the death of the partner who had not left a will.
Smith and Selby had been living together from 2002 until Selby’s death in 2008.
Selby had no children, was predeceased by his parents, and survived by his siblings, including the respondent Albert Anthony Selby.
In coming to its decision the regional court set aside the earlier ruling of the Barbados Court of Appeal and all orders for costs from the courts below.
The CCJ declared that Smith was the spouse of the deceased and ordered Anthony Selby to pay $20,000 in costs.
The final appellate court said the nine years that elapsed since Selby’s death was inconsistent with the overriding objective to resolve disputes justly and expeditiously, and that delay inevitably caused distress as no one had been appointed to administer the dead man’s estate.
As a result, the CCJ sought to give a ruling as speedily as possible, considering the matter had been filed at the court in March this year.
Commenting on the ruling, one of this country’s well-respected lawyers explained that more often than not, interim appeals are mere applications of convenience and had no real effect on the outcome of the case, either in fact or in law.
The attorney said an application for an interim injunction was one such legal tool, admitting that some lawyer resorted to this practice because they knew it would delay the substantive matter before the court and generally frustrate the efforts of the other party.
Some of the more high profile cases currently held up by way of interim appeals include the US$100 million Hyatt Centric Resort which is proposed to be built at Bay Street, The City and the appeal against the freezing of the $2.5 million assets of former CLICO Holdings executive chairman Leroy Parris.