Jaroo v Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
CourtPrivy Council
JudgeLord Hope of Craighead
Judgment Date04 Feb 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] UKPC 5
Docket NumberAppeal No. 54 of 2000

[2002] UKPC 5

Privy Council

Present at the hearing:-

Lord Hope of Craighead

Lord Browne-Wilkinson

Lord Scott of Foscote

Sir Christopher Slade

Sir Andrew Leggatt

Appeal No. 54 of 2000
Thakur Persad Jaroo
Appellant
and
The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago
Respondent

[Delivered by Lord Hope of Craighead]

1

In October 1987 a motor car which the appellant had recently purchased in good faith was suspected by the licensing authorities of being a stolen vehicle. On their instructions he took the motor car to the police so that they could examine it and conduct such inquiries into its theft as they thought appropriate. After a suitable interval, having heard nothing from them, he asked the police to return the vehicle. Repeated requests to this effect met with no reply, so he took his case by way of a constitutional motion to the High Court. His attempts to obtain redress by this means have been singularly unsuccessful, as the vehicle has still not been returned to him. Now, fourteen years later, a dispute which ought to have been resolved long ago has been appealed as of right to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

2

The appellant's case for the return of his vehicle was capable of being dealt with relatively simply in the ordinary courts in Trinidad and Tobago by means of processes which were available to him under the common law. It has been complicated by the fact that he chose to apply instead by way of an originating motion under section 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago 1976 to the High Court. The question whether it was appropriate for him to assert his constitutional rights in a case of this kind lies at the heart of this appeal.

The facts

3

The appeal, which the appellant has brought before the Board under section 109 (1)(d) of the Constitution, is against an order of the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago (de la Bastide CJ, Ibrahim and Hosein JJA) dated 30 November 1998. The appellant's case was that his vehicle had been unlawfully detained by the police. He sought an order for its return together with damages for a contravention of his rights under sections 4(a) and 4(b) of the Constitution. By its order of that date the Court of Appeal dismissed the appellant's appeal from an order of Gopeesingh J dated 7 May 1990 dismissing his application by way of a constitutional motion in respect of the seizure and detention of his motor car.

4

The motor car in question was a 1600 Galant motor vehicle registration number HAM 8086 which the appellant had purchased on 26 August 1987 for $12,500. It had been licensed by the previous owners as a hire car, and the appellant wished to use it only for his own private purposes. So he took it to the licensing office at San Fernando to be reclassified and registered in that category under section 18(1) of the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act (Ch 48:50). Section 18(1) provides that applications of that kind must be dealt with as if the vehicle had not been previously registered. Section 13(1) provides that, before registering any motor vehicle, the automotive licensing officer must verify all the particulars entered on the application form and that he may, if he deems this necessary, send the vehicle to be examined by a motor vehicles inspector. Section 12(1) provides that no person shall, in any place, use or keep for use any motor vehicle not being exempted from registration under the Act, unless it is registered under the Act and has affixed thereto in the prescribed manner the prescribed registration mark.

5

On 20 October 1987 a motor vehicles inspector attached to the licensing office, Ken Supersad, informed the appellant that he believed that the chassis number of the vehicle had been tampered with. He told him that the police would have to be called in to investigate. The vehicle remained at the licensing office compound until 30 October 1987. The appellant was then told that the vehicle would be released to him so that he could take it himself to the police for further inquiries to be made as there was reason to suspect that it was a stolen vehicle. He collected the vehicle from the licensing office and, as instructed, took it to the police criminal investigation division, stolen vehicle squad, Port of Spain, that afternoon. He handed over the keys and left the vehicle there in the custody of Police Sergeant Flemming.

6

The appellant said in an affidavit which was filed in support of his application that he made numerous requests to the police thereafter, both written and oral, for the return of his motor car but without any success. No reason had been given to him by the police for its detention. He had not been charged by them with any offence. On 22 April 1988 his attorneys sent a letter on his behalf to the Commissioner of Police in which they requested him to return the vehicle within seven days, failing which legal proceedings would be commenced. No reply was received to this letter. On 19 May 1988 the appellant applied for constitutional relief by way of originating motion to the High Court. In support of his application he filed a copy of his certificate of ownership of the motor car. It recorded the fact that he had purchased it from Harold Bridgelal who was the person named on it as the previous owner of the vehicle.

7

It was not until 28 June 1988 when the respondent filed an affidavit by Sergeant Flemming dated 27 June 1988 in opposition to his motion that the appellant received an explanation for the continued detention of the motor car. Sergeant Flemming said in his affidavit that when he examined the vehicle he found that the chassis number had been tampered with. He gave instructions for it to be taken to the forensic science centre to be examined. It was found that both the engine and the chassis numbers had been tampered with. The plate bearing the original chassis number had been removed and a new plate had been welded in its place. The original engine number had been erased and a new number had been stamped in place of the original. Paint examination of the vehicle showed that it was originally white and was subsequently painted grey. He said that the information which he had obtained indicated that it was a stolen vehicle and that he was conducting further inquiries to ascertain the identity of the true owner of it. His view was that the inquiries would lead to the apprehension of all those concerned in the theft and to charges being preferred against them. He said that it was necessary to preserve the vehicle as material evidence.

8

The appellant did not seek to challenge any of the contents of this affidavit when his originating motion came before Gopeesingh J for hearing in the High Court. His case was simply that his constitutional rights under section 4(a) and section 4(b) had been infringed because he had been deprived of the enjoyment of his property without due process of law and because he had not been afforded protection under the law.

9

Chapter 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago of 1 August 1976 provides:

"4. It is hereby recognised and declared that in Trinidad and Tobago there have existed and shall continue to exist, without discrimination by reason of race, origin, colour, religion or sex, the following fundamental human rights and freedoms, namely –

  • (a) the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

  • (b) the right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law …

5.(1) Except as is otherwise expressly provided in this Chapter and in section 54, no law may abrogate, abridge or infringe or authorise the abrogation, abridgement or infringement of any of the rights and freedoms hereinbefore recognised and declared.

14.(1) For the removal of doubts it is hereby declared that if any person alleges that any of the provisions of this Chapter has been, is being, or is likely to be contravened in relation to him, then without prejudice to any other action with respect to the same matter which is lawfully available, that person may apply to the High Court for redress by way of originating motion.

(2) The High Court shall have original jurisdiction –

  • (a) to hear and determine any application made by any person in pursuance of subsection (1); and

  • (b) to determine any question arising in the case of any person which is referred to it in pursuance of subsection (4), and may, subject to subsection (3), make such orders, issue such writs and give such directions as it may consider appropriate for the purpose of enforcing, or securing the enforcement of, any of the provisions of this Chapter to the protection of which the person concerned is entitled."

The judgments

10

In his judgment dated 4 May 1990 Gopeesingh J dealt first with the appellant's case that his constitutional right under section 4(b) had been infringed because he was being denied protection under the law. He recalled that in Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago v McLeod [1984] 1 WLR 522, 531 Lord Diplock said that the existence of a right of access to the courts of justice to declare that an Act of Parliament was invalid was sufficient to preserve the constitutional right to the protection of the law to which all individuals are entitled under section 4(b). As Lord Diplock put it at p 531B-C, access to a court of justice for that purpose is itself "the protection of the law" to which all individuals are entitled under section 4(b). Gopeesingh J said that, in the light of that authority, it seemed to him to be manifest from the very fact that the appellant had filed his motion that he had not been denied access to a court for the purpose of establishing the invalidity of the decisions and conduct of the licensing...

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