NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Chief Justice Ian Winder yesterday ordered the demolition of structures erected by just two of nearly 180 shanty town residents after determining that they “wilfully” breached a 2018 Supreme Court injunction which prohibited the construction of new structures in shantytowns across country.
Back in February, Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson discharged an injunction that previously barred the government from demolishing structures in shanty towns in New Providence and Abaco. The injunction stemmed from a judicial review application brought by shanty town residents in 2018 into whether their removal is unconstitutional. A variation of the 2018 injunction also prevented shanty town residents from altering or expanding those communities.
Justice Winder delivered a decision yesterday on the government’s application seeking the enforcement of the injunction orders made by Justice Grant-Thompson in the judicial review action.
While the government contended the injunctions were clear and equivocal, in his ruling Justice Winder found that proper notice regarding the judge’s injunction had not been given to shanty town residents. According to the Chief Justice, notwithstanding the wide breadth of the injunction, it has to actually come to the attention of the persons alleged to be in breach of the injunction to be actionable against them.
Chief Justice Winder highlighted the affidavit evidence of Stephanie St Fleur, President of Respect Our Homes and Human Rights Bahamas Rights Bahamas who noted that the organisations visited the shanty towns 2021 to advise residents of the terms of the injunction. Specific individuals were not identified.
“Notwithstanding this, I do not find that there was adequate evidence that anyone other than the parties to this action could be said to have had proper notice of the injunction. The respondents took no steps in accordance with the rules to substitute service of the injunction on persons who are/were unknown to them. A simple order for the posting of the Orders on the doors of the residents, as was done to cause the additional occupants to attend court in this application could have been obtained. Further, while there may have be press statements and notices placed in certain communities this was not done with the authority of an order for substituted service,” Chief Justice Winder noted.
Chief Justice Winder ruled that shanty town residents Rose St Fleur and Aviole Francois-Burrows were aware of the existence of the order, having responded to it. “There has been no evidential response to the allegations of breach by Rose St Fleur and Aviole Francois-Burrows or a request to do so. I am satisfied that the breach is wilful,” he said.
Chief Justice Winder noted that in such a case where the law is being openly flouted and the administration of justice being brought into disrepute, the court has an inherent jurisdiction to protect the process. Chief Justice Winder ordered that the “offending structures” of St Fleur and Francis-Burrows be removed within 45 days.
Prime Minister Philip Davis commenting on the ruling yesterday said, “I have not studied the ruling in its entirety and we will see what the lawyers have to say about it. What I can say is that we respect the decision of the court and will abide by that decision unless and until it is overturned.”