By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
FRED Smith, QC, made an impassioned plea for government to cease further demolition until the Supreme Court has made its final ruling on whether a standing injunction, which bars the government from evicting shanty town residents and disconnecting services in their communities, will be extended to cover unregulated communities in Abaco.
It was expected that Justice Cheryl Grant Thompson would make a decision on Friday.
However, Mr Smith who represents the 177 shanty town residents and non-profit group Respect Our Homes Ltd in the judicial proceedings told the court he had a series of doctors appointments, which presented a challenge to proceedings continuing.
Before the court adjourned to May 21, Mr Smith and attorneys representing the Crown squared off after Mr Smith pleaded with government to cease demolition until the court made its final ruling.
Government is planning a demolition exercise on May 7 at The Farm shanty town in Abaco. This comes after 45 homes in the same area were pushed down about two weeks ago.
“As we know the court is considering the variation of the application for the extension of the injunction to Abaco. As we know the court has a lot to consider but may I ask the respondents to please take instruction and invite them to ask their clients not to engage in any further demolitions until such time as the court has had a reasonable opportunity to deliberate and deliver its ruling in due course,” Mr Smith said yesterday.
“I mean we are before the court and out of respect for the rule of law and out of respect for the judicial process I invite the respondents to please not do anymore demolitions until the court rules.
“In fact the better thing would be just until the end of this trial. We didn’t seek an extension of the injunction on the first occasion when we issued the proceedings because there was no imminent threat for the demolitions in Abaco at the time. Notices hadn’t even been served in respect of the Abaco communities.
“So, I ask the respondents to please take instructions and to please ask their clients that in the spirit of respecting the rule of law and in the spirit of respecting the fact that this court is deliberating on the very issue of whether there should or shouldn’t be demolitions that they please simply give an undertaking not to demolish until you give a judgement in this entire case.”
“In relation to any demolition that may have taken place those structures had nothing to do with the injunction or had nothing to do with the 177 applicants in that residence that are before this court.”
In response, attorney Kayla Green-Smith noted that the demolition had nothing to do with any of the applications now before the court. She too made an appeal for there to remain respect of the laws in that people should not still be constructing unregulated structures.
She pointed to a sworn affidavit by Warren Johnson who stated that following Hurricane Dorian there were about 28 structures confirmed by drone photographs. However, as of March 14 she said the number had exponentially grown.
She said: “The demolition related to unfinished structures, unoccupied and unfinished but we note his concern and take it under advisement. We wish to correspond and note that the respondents have never disrespected the court order and as I indicated the structures that were demolished were unoccupied, unfinished structures that were demolished, and they had nothing to do with this application that is before this court today.
“We would also urge Mr Smith’s clients to also respect the rule of law because as you would note based on the affidavit of Mr Warren Johnson that was filed. He gave an assessment based on drone photographs of the state of the Farm area in Abaco post Dorian, which related to only about 28 structures and then a further assessment had been done with the drone on the 14th of March and that area was built up to 175 structures in the community, which is clear the disrespect for the rule of law.
“So, we say that the position has to be mutual, but we also need to make the point that those structures had nothing to do with what are presently dealing with.”
Judge Grant-Thompson noted that the court had expected that the status quo remains.
Mr Smith rebutted that what is “good for the goose should be good for the gander”
He said if anyone was in breach of the injunction then they should face the court.
“…you can’t take the law into your own hands when you’re respecting the process and start demolishing. A breach of an injunction doesn’t entitle you to demolish. It entitles you to bring the person that breached the injunction before the court and allege that they have been in contempt and the court can then deal with that person.
“It doesn’t entitle the Attorney General or other members of the government to demolish the structures whether they were built 10 years ago or 10 days ago, it’s a matter of respecting the process.
“…I would embrace your honour’s suggestion fully that the status quo and my friend can take instructions the status quo be maintained pending your judgement and that would free your honour of having to deal with the interlocutory application for variation.”
While Mrs Green-Smith reiterated that government had not disrespected the court’s order, attorney Franklyn Williams noted government still had a duty to uphold the law.
“We just wish to note that there is no breach of the injunction by the respondents,” he said. “Any action that is being taken now is to enforce the provisions of the law and if I may just say the government or no agency of government which is tasked with enforcing any aspect of the law can be injuncted from its duties under the law.”
He was supported by David Higgins, another Crown attorney, who noted that the people who face the most recent action by government were not Mr Smith’s clients.
“…I don’t know why we are spinning around with this issue. So, therefore it would be like we are going in a circle,” he said.
“They were not his clients. They were not under the injunction. The variation was not granted to include the entire Abaco and so, therefore, how would we hold contempt against them?
“…then alternative remedy comes up because they could have asked for the extension before the magistrate. Nobody did anything when the notice was served on them when the respective authority caught them just going along and doing whatever they feel like doing, building whatever structure in whatever form contrary to the law,
“They were just doing their own thing and then when the government enforced the law, which was not part of the court case they had the right to go to Magistrate Court or whatever court to ask that that matter be dealt with by the appeal under the law.”
He maintained that government acted appropriately.
Still, Mr Smith maintained that government was orchestrating a humanitarian crisis and “ethnic cleansing” as people, including the handicapped were now forced to live in nearby bushes.