This country’s final court of appeal today warned a team of Barbadian lawyers who appeared before it in a property transaction matter that it will not be tolerating adjournments and late filing of documents as is the practice in some jurisdictions.
The caution was delivered by Judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Jacob Wit in response to an application from Queen’s Counsel Barry Gale who had asked for a short adjournment so he could properly prepare for the case.
Gale, who along with fellow QCs Alair Shepherd and Leslie Haynes are representing respondents in the appeal, told the CCJ that he has been in isolation at home alone since December 31 and was awaiting COVID-19 test results.
He told the judges he could not properly consult with his associates or attorneys for other respondents or go near his office or library.
Gale pleaded with the court to grant him the adjournment in the circumstances.
But even though after a break in proceedings the justices eventually granted him the postponement until March 16, they warned the local lawyers and all others that adjournments are condemned by the regional court.
“Given the fact that it took us sometime to decide this, will tell you that a decision to adjourn is not easily taken by this court. We are very much against all kind of adjournments. In fact, that is one of the causes why many judicial systems are simply in a situation where they cannot handle the flow of cases anymore. We don’t want to get at that point at all,” declared Justice Wit.
“Now that we have the full facts of Mr Gale’s situation, we sympathize. It is that we all are suffering because of the COVID situation. We have to work from home like most of you from your office and some of you are not as seriously isolated as Mr Gale. Given that particular situation, we are willing to consider the adjournment of the case. We will adjourn the case as a whole. Given the enormous and appalling delays in the case already, this is not a case unfortunately of that much urgency. So we are suggesting to hear this case on March 16,” the judge stated.
All the parties agreed to the date.
The CCJ justice told the court he hoped by that date, Gale’s situation would have improved so the hearing could start.
He also sounded another caution to the attorneys regarding the last minute filing of “authorities”.
“This is concerning the fact that authorities have been filed at a very late stage. This is something the court condemns and does not agree with. Now given the fact that we have a two-month adjournment this will give the respondents enough time to react if this is necessary, But we condemn the practice and I think we are in the process of sharpening our rules which should be done by April this year,” Justice Wit announced.
He told the senior counsel that they now have enough time to prepare and it is disturbing when “authorities’ are filed at the last minute.
“That is a practice we condemn and we do not wish to see it continued. If other jurisdictions do not have a problem with it, we do have a problem with that because the wheels of justice have to turn in an efficient way,” Judge Wit admonished.
In giving background to the case, it was noted that following the death of Majorie IIma Knox, her son Eugene Estwick was appointed her personal representative for the purpose of these proceedings. During her lifetime Knox unsuccessfully carried on a claim against the respondents and was ordered to pay costs to the respondents.
Several applications were filed in relation to the payment of costs. On the 12 August 2010, the trial judge made an order to garnish the dividends of Majorie Ilma Knox for the financial year 2009/2010 to pay costs to the respondents.
This decision was appealed and on 26 June 2020, the Court of Appeal of Barbados affirmed the High Court judge’s decision on garnishment but modified the High Court judge’s decision on interest.
The appellant now contends that the decision of the Court of Appeal was wrong and that they made several errors in law and in fact.
Furthermore, the appellant contends that the Court of Appeal’s decision is invalid and void because when the decision was delivered, one member of the appellate panel Madame Justice Sandra Mason had been appointed to the executive as Governor-General of Barbados while another member Mr Justice Andrew Burgess had been elevated to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
The appellant is arguing that both judges remained in their respective post on the date of the decision and were therefore unable to sit as judges to deliver the decision of the panel on June 26, 2020. ([email protected])