BLOCKED: Supreme Court extends shantytown injunction to all of Abaco

Court says govt has authority to demolish, but must bring evidence to court first

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Supreme Court has extended its shantytown injunction to the entirety of Abaco, preventing the government from destroying shantytown communities without bringing evidence of a breach of the law to the court first.

Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson handed down her ruling yesterday morning.

The substantive judicial review of the shantytown matter is still under review by the court.

“I am of the view that the judicial review application before the court ultimately affects every shantytown in Abaco and as such should be extended to cover all of them,” she ruled.

Grant-Thompson made clear that the government has the right to clear and demolish homes, but it should bring evidence of a breach of the law to the court prior to the action.

She continued: “The court is not saying that the government of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas does not have the right to demolish and clear down homes in that are in breach of…the Disaster Reconstruction Authority Act 2019 or for any other reasons, it may require such measures.

“However, if the government avers that certain structures should be demolished because of a health hazard, violation of the law or otherwise, evidence of this should be presented to the court prior to the action taking place.

“The decision of the court, therefore, is to deny the application of the respondents to vary the injunction to exclude the island of Abaco.

The original injunction was granted in August 2018.

The judge said she reviewed the evidence from both the respondents and applicants.

She said the court is of the view that the injunction should not be varied to exclude the Abaco applicants and it is “incumbent that the court does whatever it can in its power to preserve the status quo”.

She said while it was mindful of the duty of the government to moving and “even in some instances, destroying buildings” the injunction should prevail if only one home and one resident’s rights are protected.

The applicants requested for the injunction to cover all shantytown communities in The Bahamas.

But the judge denied this request.

The judge said the applicants failed to provide sufficient evidence to support their request that all shantytowns should be covered.

She said the applicants have not provided evidence where the government’s policy has impacted any shantytown residents outside of Abaco and New Providence.

She said the court is of the view that the injunction should not be varied to exclude the Abaco applicants and it is “incumbent that the court does whatever it can in its power to preserve the status quo”.

The government has indicated its intention to appeal the ruling.

The government has argued that the injunction should no longer apply to the applicants in Abaco due to the “disappearance of the very stratum for the injunction”. The court said it is aware that many of the homes in Abaco previously covered by the injunction were destroyed by the “monstrous hurricane”.

She said while it was mindful of the duty of the government to moving and “even in some instances, destroying buildings which the government may view as hazardous to the citizens, public health or otherwise a breach of law”.

However, the judge said if only one home remains standing where the rights of the resident or residents may be protected by the continuation of the injunction, then “the injunction will prevail until the completion of this matter”.

The applicants also requested for the injunction to be extended to cover Abaco in its entirety, providing evidence that the government has cleared areas such as The Mudd and Pigeon Peas entirely “without regard to the state of any structures there”.

The respondents have rejected the notion.

The judge said the state of the substantive proceedings is in the final stages and it does not anticipate the extension will be in existence for more than three months. The original injunction was granted in August 2018. The government has indicated its intention to appeal the ruling.