High Court judge Justice James Aboud yesterday dismissed an application by the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM) for an interim conservatory order to halt work along the Debe to Mon Desir link of the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway extension.
He however ruled that Government breached the rights of members of the HRM by not considering recommendations of the Dr James Armstrong-led Highway Review Committee.
The Government is now free to continue with the construction of the highway pending the outcome of the substantive matter in which the HRM, headed by Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, is seeking to have the building of the section effectively stopped.
Justice Aboud delivered his 74-page judgment at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, saying there was the creation of legitimate expectation in the minds of members of the movement after the Government agreed to review the findings of the review committee’s report but later failed to do so before continuing with the construction.
However, despite there being a breach of legitimate expectation, Aboud said he did not believe the interim order should be granted given the HRM’s decision to not make the application in the shortest possible time.
“These observations are especially striking in the circumstances of this case where an undertaking was being flatly refused from as early as September 2012, and the decision not to seek an interim conservatory order was deliberately taken, in spite of what should have been alarm bells in the ears of the HRM.
“In any event, the Debe interchange aside, there is evidence of construction works on the other interchanges as early as 2012. The response of Dr Kublalsingh to the work on the Fyzabad interchange was to go on a hunger strike in the political arena,” said Aboud.
He said in arriving at yesterday’s decision, he had to balance justice and take into consideration the consequences of granting such an order.
“In considering the balance of justice, the granting of an order to stop the highway to secure a right of review must be balanced against the tremendous cost that the taxpayer has already borne and the stupendous cost that he or she will bear as a result of its grant.
“To this must be added the continued burden of oppressive traffic faced by thousands of motorists. I must bear in mind as well that the review sought to be protected by this order, is not guaranteed to result in any substantial design alteration, and, at least on the basis of Dr Armstrong’s report, is unlikely to lead to a reroute of the highway,” said the judge.
He added, even though Government agreed to review the findings of the report, it did not agree to abide by the recommendations, and in any event, did not agree to stop work on the disputed section.
Aboud said the breach of legitimate expectation created a strong case for the HRM and he believed the substantive matter should proceed expeditiously.
Next Wednesday the matter will again come up for hearing before Aboud for a case management conference when it will be determined on which dates the case will be able to proceed.
Following the ruling, senior counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who represented the HRM, told reporters the ruling proved what Kublalsingh and other members had been saying all along.
Maharaj said even though the judgment allowed for the continuation of work along the questioned section, the fact that Aboud found that the Government had breached the rights of members of the movement, the work should be immediately halted.
“The court has found that the Prime Minister would have betrayed the members of the movement and the citizens of the country of not conducting a review because the court has found that there was a promise by the Prime Minister and the Government to consider the Armstrong Report.
“On the face of it for ordinary people in Trinidad and Tobago to understand...a government takes an oath to obey the law and to not to rely on technicalities.
“The High Court has reaffirmed what Dr Kublalsingh has been saying, that a promise has been made to review the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway by the Government. The court has found today that promise is not an empty promise.
“There is a prima facie case of a legitimate expectation of a substantive benefit which impacts on the enjoyment of property of members of the movement,” said Maharaj.
Kublalsingh threatened to take to the streets and continue to battle the State for not keeping its promise to review the report.
“If it is the Judiciary cannot handle it, we will handle it on the streets. And if it is that I alone has to handle it as I did last December because we cannot take any more insincerity and broken promises and if they want to fight on the streets with us, they will get it. We will continue with the matter in court but we will fight this government until it crumbles and falls,” said Kublalsingh.
Also representing the HRM was senior counsel Fyard Hosein, while the State was represented by senior counsel Russell Martineau and Deborah Peake, along with Gerald Ramdeen, Kelvin Ramkissoon and Sashtri Roberts.