Bordering on the intolerable is how the country’s final appellate tribunal has described the lower Court of Appeal’s failure to hand down its decision in a civil case, four years after it was due.
In the latest of an ongoing series of criticisms of the sloth of Barbadian courts, the justices of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) made their position known today as they declined to hear the case, Knox versus Dean and others, possibly the longest-running estate dispute in Barbados’ modern legal history.
The regional court indicated that it was the delay which prompted the applicant to bypass the Barbados Court of Appeal and seek a decision from the CCJ.
The applicant challenged an earlier order made by Justice Randall Worrell in the High Court to seize dividends from Kingsland Estates Limited which were payable to the estate of the late Marjorie Ilma Knox.
But in its decision announced today, the Caribbean Court ruled that it can only hear appeals from judgments delivered by the Court of Appeal.
The CCJ therefore dismissed the application of John Knox – son of the late Marjorie Knox – for permission to appeal.
CCJ President Justice Adrian Saunders who chaired the three-member panel of Justices Jacob Wit and Winston Anderson, noted that the Court of Appeals had reserved its decision in 2016 “and to date has not given its judgment.”
Justice Saunders said: “Mr Knox took the view that the failure to date of the Court of Appeal to give a decision should be treated as if it were a dismissal of his appeal. It was on this basis, that Mr Knox believed the CCJ should give him permission to appeal Justice Worrell’s order.
“In effect, Mr Knox was seeking to bypass the Court of Appeal and take his case straight to the CCJ from the High Court. The CCJ disagreed with this approach.”
In its judgment, the CCJ ruled that unless the Parliament of Barbados provides otherwise, the CCJ has jurisdiction only to hear appeals from decisions of the Court of Appeal.
But the regional panel of judges hastened to acknowledge that “justice delayed is justice denied”.
It was at this point that the CCJ expressed its consternation at the Court of Appeals’ delay in strong language.
“A delay of over four years in a case that turns on whether a judge was right or wrong in making a garnishee (order to seize assets) borders on the intolerable. Mr Knox is not without remedy for any such denial. Under section 24(1) of the Constitution, he may make an application for such constitutional redress as he considers himself to be entitled,” the CCJ President declared.
There are eleven respondents in the case, mostly comprising members of the Deane family. The case dates back to 1998 when Marjorie Knox brought a minority shareholder’s oppression action against Kingsland Estates Limited and others in an effort to obtain an order permitting her to buy out the remaining shares in Kingsland.
The action failed in the Barbados courts and in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council where costs were awarded against Mrs Knox in the sum of £247,500 – or $616,124 today.
These costs were certified and registered as an order of the Barbados courts on May 31, 2006 and June 20, 2007.
In July 2012, when the CCJ handed down its decision in another aspect of the case, Justice Rolston Nelson observed that those proceedings were the latest instalment in a long-running internecine battle between the Knox and Deane families over the Kingsland Estate and control of Kingsland Estates Limited (“Kingsland”).
The Knox family is adamant that they are not getting justice in efforts to settle the estate dispute, but at various stages along the way the courts have been finding in favour of the Deanes or against the Knoxes as evidenced in the 2012 CCJ judgment and today’s ruling as well as the local tribunal.