CCJ upholds squatter’s rights in Dominica land dispute
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has quashed the decision of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) that gave away the rights of a person who had occupied a piece of land for more than 12 years in Dominica.
David George had appealed the ruling of the ECSC and the Dominica High that he was not entitled to be on the land owned by Albert Guye, which he had occupied for more than 12 years.
The strip of land formed part of a larger parcel of land of which Guye became the registered owner in 1995.
But, the five-member panel of judges heard that although Guye was issued a certificate of title under the Title by Registration Act, it was not until 2007 that he filed a claim to regain possession of the disputed strip of land.
George argued that his long and continuous possession of the strip had extinguished Guye’s title.
Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal disagreed with George and held that under the legislation Guye’s registered title could not be challenged unless George had complied with the procedural steps outlined in the act.
The lower courts held that George, having not triggered Section 33, could not now succeed against the claim of Guye.
But, the CCJ, by a majority judgment delivered by the Court’s President, Justice Adrian Saunders, disagreed with the lower courts and allowed George’s appeal.
It said that the indefeasibility of a Certificate of Title in Dominica was not absolute and that the registration act expressly provided for two exceptions to such indefeasibility.
The one relevant to the appeal is where the title of the registered proprietor had been superseded by a title acquired under the law.
Justice Saunders said that the law conferred certain “squatter’s rights” on someone who has been in occupation of land for over 12 years and the CCJ took the view that the law barred even a registered landowner who allowed someone to squat on his land for a continuous period in excess of 12 years from bringing an action in court to recover the land from the squatter.
The CCJ was also of the view that this interpretation of the law was in line with cases coming out of Dominica over many years.
Accordingly, the majority held that George was entitled to successfully defend the claim for possession brought by Guye.
But, in their minority judgement, Justices Anderson and Burgess noted that the critical issue was to determine the circumstances in which the title of the registered owner can be superseded.
Justice Anderson said that the introduction of the registration act was to provide stability and security of title and overrode the earlier “squatter’s rights” legislation where there is a conflict between the two.