Cenac and Others v Schafer (Saint Lucia)

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
CourtPrivy Council
JudgeSir Kim Lewison
Judgment Date02 Aug 2016
Neutral Citation[2016] UKPC 25

[2016] UKPC 25

Privy Council Appeal No 0044 of 2015

From the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (Saint Lucia)

before

Lord Clarke

Lord Sumption

Lord Carnwath

Lord Hodge

Sir Kim Lewison

Cenac and others
(Appellants)
and
Schafer
(Respondent) (Saint Lucia)

Appellants

Seryozha Cenac Leslie Prospere

(Instructed by Campbell Chambers)

Respondent

Peter I Foster QC Renee T St Rose

(Instructed by Charles Russell Speechlys LLP)

Heard on 19 July 2016

Sir Kim Lewison
1

Like many places in and around the Caribbean the law of Saint Lucia restricts the holding of land by aliens without a government licence. The principal issues on this appeal concern the legal effect of those restrictions on a transaction between US citizens.

2

In 1986 Mr and Mrs Cenac, who are both citizens of Saint Lucia, owned a parcel of land extending to about eight acres known as La Battery. It was registered in the Land Registry as Block 0031B, Parcel 20. By a deed of sale dated 29 August 1986 Mr and Mrs Cenac sold the land to Dr and Mrs Smith, who are US citizens. The deed recited that Dr and Mrs Smith were duly licenced to hold the land by virtue of a licence granted under the Aliens (Landholding Regulation) Act (No 10 of 1973). The licence had been granted by the Governor-General on 30 August 1985, and was made subject to the conditions in its Second Schedule which read:

"THE PROPERTY is to be used for the purpose of building a residence and developing agriculture—the building to be completed within three years of the date of issue of this licence."

3

Dr and Mrs Smith were registered as proprietors of the land at the Land Registry on 27 July 1987. Although the Smiths began some construction work, they did not complete the building of a residence within the three years given by the licence. By letter dated 4 March 1991 Dr and Mrs Smith purported to sell the land to Mr Hedrick for US $150,000. They acknowledged receipt of US $75,000; and the balance was to be paid within 18 months. One half of the purchase price is much more than a conventional deposit. Mr Hedrick was also a US citizen; and although he held licences under the Aliens (Landholding Regulation) Act to hold other land in Saint Lucia, he did not have a licence to hold La Battery. Belle J, the trial judge, found that at some time in 1991 Mr Cenac and Mr Hedrick had lunch together in the course of which Mr Hedrick told Mr Cenac that Dr Smith had agreed to sell the land to him for US $150,000. On 20 March 1991 Mr Hedrick placed a caution on the register of title at the Land Registry. He made the final payment of the agreed purchase price in February 1994.

4

On 29 April 1994 Dr and Mrs Smith granted Mr Hedrick an irrevocable power of attorney which authorised him to negotiate and agree to a sale of the property; and to sign all deeds necessary to transfer its ownership.

5

On 15 October 2001 Senior Crown Counsel from the Chambers of the Attorney-General wrote to Dr and Mrs Smith, informing them that they were in breach of the licence, stating that the Government intended to commence proceedings for the forfeiture of the land, and inviting representations by 19 November 2001. A copy was sent to Mr Cenac whose name and address appeared on the register as the contact point for Dr and Mrs Smith. Mr Cenac wrote back seeking to dissuade the Government from taking forfeiture proceedings. In the course of his letter he made it clear that he knew that Dr and Mrs Smith had agreed to sell the land to Mr Hedrick, that Mr Hedrick had paid them US $75,000 and that Mr Hedrick had lodged a caution. In the result no forfeiture proceedings have in fact been begun.

6

Mr Hedrick died on 2 July 2004; and probate of his estate was granted to his son-in-law Mr Schafer on 15 September 2004. Mr Schafer is also a US citizen. In February 2005 Mr Schafer successfully applied to be substituted as cautioner at the Land Registry. The alteration was made on 15 February 2005.

7

On 16 February 2006 Dr and Mrs Smith entered into a deed of sale with Mr and Mrs Cenac. By that deed they purported to sell La Battery to Mr and Mrs Cenac for EC $560,120. The terms of the deed recited the agreement between the Smiths and Mr Hedrick, asserted that the deposit but not the outstanding balance had been paid, recited the caution lodged by Mr Hedrick, and that Mr Hedrick had "clearly abandoned his former intention to proceed", but purported to make the sale subject to the caution, which was to rank as a first charge on the property. Following the execution of that deed of sale Mr and Mrs Cenac applied to remove the caution in order to procure their own registration as proprietors of La Battery. Mr Schafer objected; and so the matter came before the court. In the interim Mr Schafer obtained, so their Lordships were informed, approval for the holding of, the requisite alien's licence to hold La Battery.

8

Belle J found in favour of Mr Schafer and dismissed the claim to have the caution removed. He awarded Mr Schafer his costs. He also awarded Mr Schafer damages for breach of trust against Dr and Mrs Smith; damages for procuring a breach of trust or breach of contract against Mr and Mrs Cenac; and directed that the Registrar of the High Court be authorised to execute a deed of sale to Mr Schafer on registration of an alien's land holding licence. The Court of Appeal (Baptiste, Mitchell and Blenman JJA) dismissed an appeal. The grounds of appeal before the Board are diffuse, and are not marshalled in a logical order. Their Lordships will take the grounds of appeal in what appear to them to be a more logical and structured order.

9

It is common ground that Dr and Mrs Smith are aliens as defined by the Aliens (Landholding Regulation) Act 1973 and before his death so was Mr Hedrick. So, too, is Mr Schafer. Section 3 provides:

"(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, neither land in Saint Lucia, nor a Debenture or mortgage thereon shall, after the commencement of this Act, be held by an unlicensed alien, and any land or mortgage so held shall be forfeited to Her Majesty."

10

Section 5 provides that land forfeited under the Act does not vest in Her Majesty "unless and until a judgment is obtained declaring the forfeiture"; and a judgment declaring a forfeiture "shall operate to vest" the land in the Crown. Section 15 empowers the Attorney-General to apply to the High Court for a declaration that any right, title or interest "is forfeited to the Crown".

11

Section 13(1) provides:

"No person shall, without the licence of the Cabinet, hold any land in Saint Lucia … in trust for an alien."

12

Section 13(4) defines "trust" widely, but the definition is stated not to include:

"(c) the duties of a vendor to the purchaser pending payment of the purchase money, or after payment of the purchase money, if within three months after such payment the property sold is vested in the purchaser or his interest therein is extinguished …"

13

Section 17 provides that a licence granted under the Act is subject to stamp duty.

14

There is little doubt that as a matter of the general law of England and Wales, upon entry into a specifically enforceable contract for the sale of land the vendor becomes a trustee of the land for the purchaser, subject to his paramount right to receive the purchase price; and that when he has received the whole of the price he holds it on trust for the purchaser absolutely: Shaw v Foster (1872) LR 5 HL 321. The nature of the trust is a constructive trust. By section 916A(2) of the Civil Code Cap 4.01 of the Revised Laws of Saint Lucia 2001 constructive trusts arise in the same circumstances as they arise under the law of England. In Murphy v Quigg (1996) 54 WIR 162 in a judgment delivered by Sir Vincent Floissac CJ the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean applied these principles.

15

In Young v Bess (1995) 46 WIR 165 the Board considered legislation in very similar form which applied to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Their Lordships explained that the effect of the legislation was not that forfeiture occurred automatically, but that the title of an unlicensed alien was liable to forfeiture at the suit of the Crown. They also approved the decision of the British Caribbean Court of Appeal in Lehrer v Gordon (1964) 7 WIR 247 in which it was held that breach of conditions in a licence required under similar legislation in the Leeward Islands did not result in an automatic forfeiture. Prima facie, therefore, Dr and Mrs Smith's failure to comply with the conditions attached to their licence did not divest them of title; and the equitable interest they created in favour of Mr Hedrick was likewise not automatically invalidated by his failure to comply with the Aliens (Landholding Regulation) Act.

16

In Murphy v Quigg the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean held that non-compliance with restrictions on land holding by aliens did not entail the conclusion that the court should refuse to give effect to an equitable interest arising under an implied, constructive or resulting trust. The existence of such a trust was proved by evidence that the buyer paid the purchase price, and that there was a common intention that the buyer should acquire a beneficial interest by virtue of that payment. Since the claimant was not compelled to rely on any illegality in order to prove the existence of a trust, the principles on which the courts refuse to enforce illegal contracts did not apply.

17

In Hughes v La Baia Ltd [2011] UKPC 9 the Board considered alien land holding restrictions applicable in Anguilla. The trial judge (upheld by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal) ordered specific performance of a contract for the sale of land to an alien, despite the lack of a valid licence under the applicable legislation. At para 40 their Lordships approved the following statement by Byron LJ (Ag) in Equipment Rental and...

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