Sun | Feb 28, 2021

Sykes erred in Hope Pastures JPS ruling – Gifford

Published:Tuesday | February 4, 2020 | 1:05 AMDanae Hyman/Gleaner Writer
Bryan Sykes
Bryan Sykes

Chief Justice Bryan Sykes’ ruling in favour of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) against Hope Pastures residents was yesterday criticised as ill-informed by Lord Anthony Gifford in a Court of Appeal hearing over a years-long row over electricity supply to the suburban St Andrew community and who should pay for it.

According to Gifford, underground electricity was introduced into Hope Pastures in 1962 and was approved by Parliament, a luxury that residents already paid for when purchasing their homes.

Further, he argued that the contractual agreement between the community and JPS obligated, by law, the light and power provider to repair, renew and replace the underground wires at its expense.

The Hope Pastures lawsuit was dismissed in May 2018 by Justice Sykes, who ruled that JPS could not be compelled to supply electricity to scores of residences through underground cables at its own expense.

Appealing the Supreme Court’s decision, Gifford reiterated that based on the provisions of the scheme, JPS was bound by law to retain the underground system and that it was the utility’s sole responsibility to maintain the network.

The attorney also insinuated that Justice Sykes might not have fully understood the documents that informed his ruling.

“Just like the residents: If the residents want to change their one storey to a two storey housing, they can’t, because they are bound by the community housing agreement … ,” said Gifford, seeking to draw an analogy.

“Once the residents moved in, they became bound by the provisions of the scheme. The provisions of the scheme shall have effect and JPS is bound by said provision,” he said.

However, in Justice Sykes’ analysis of the case, he had said that the provisions did not indicate that JPS was to maintain or install underground wiring.

“JPS installed the system in fulfilment of its contractual arrangement with HEL (Housing Estates Limited). The scheme document did not outline any duties for JPS. Rather, it only indicated that HEL negotiated with JPS and that certain expenditures were to be met by HEL for the installation of the underground wiring,” his ruling read.

Gifford will be allotted a further 30 minutes to continue his arguments today before JPS’s lawyers will present their case.

The nub of the dispute harks back to JPS’s demand that residents fork out close to $41 million to replace the system.

It began to install equipment and power lines to deliver electricity to customers in Hope Pastures, a decission some have rejected.

In 2016, more than 90 residents sued JPS on the premise that it had a statutory obligation to provide electricity via underground means to their homes.

According to them, it was the utility’s responsibility to replace the underground cable system at its own expense.

However, the electricity provider declared that it was under no legal obligation, whether from statute or contract, to replace the underground system at its expense, arguing that those who wished to have the underground system would need to pay for it.