Justice Ventose highlights abuse of the court processes by Janine Harris-Lake in Tanzania Tanzil v Lindsay Grant et al
Basseterre, St Kitts, March 9, 2020 – Resident High Court Judge, His Lordship Mr Justice Eddy Ventose has highlighted several abuses of the court process by Registrar Janine Harris-Lake, sister of St Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Dr the Hon Timothy Harris.
In his recent ruling in the matter Tanzania Tanzil v Lindsay Grant et al, Justice Ventose pointed to several observances in a matter in which Hon Lindsay Grant, Minister of Tourism and International Trade and Member of Parliament for St Christopher 4 and Mr Jonel Powell, St Kitts and Nevis’ Youth and Culture ambassador are defendants. Powell and Grant are partners in the law firm of Grant and Powell.
Justice Ventose expressed concern over the confidentiality of court documents and processes.
In his 31-page ruling, Justice Ventose noted that the experience of the Court is that in 2018, applications and other documents were routinely placed on the court file in four to five days, but this had been improved within one or two days.
He noted that in the Tanzil-Grant-Powell case, an ex parte application was filed by lawyers for Tanzil at 12:10 p.m. on January 23, 2018 and that in an affidavit in support of the application to set aside the default judgement, Powell and Grant on that same date “through an agen,” learnt that an application for default judgement was filed by Tanzil.
“It is very unlikely that from 12:10 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. when the court office closes, the ex-parte application would have been placed on the court file in this matter. It seems more likely than not, that someone in the court office informed the defendants *(Grant and Powell) of the Claimant’s *(Tanzil’s) ex parte application. If this is correct, it raises serious questions concerning the confidentiality of court documents and processes,” Justice Ventose wrote.
Perusing the ex parte application for the default judgement, Justice Ventose, a former Professor of Law at the University of the West Indies, also noted that it should have been immediately placed before the High Court Judge or Master for determination and the only the High Court Judge or Master had jurisdiction to order that the Claimant (Tanzil) give notice to the Defendants (Grant and Powell).
“Given the nature of the application notice to the Defendants would serve no purpose,” said Justice Ventose, who pointed out that in the ruling that “only a High Court Judge or Master may exercise any powers of the court.”
He also observed that the “court office may not, under any circumstances, exercise any power, albeit only a procedural one, of the High Court Judge or Master,” adding: “It is not correct for anyone in the court office to inform Defendants of the Claimant’s ex parte application for default judgement.”
Justice Ventose stressed that “public confidence in the administration of justice in St Christopher and Nevis will be seriously and perhaps irreparably eroded if the public perceives that the court office “pick sides in disputes coming before the court particularly where that dispute involves public figures, politicians or government officials.”
He said “systems must immediately be put in place to ensure that this never happens again.”
“It goes without saying that the court office in carrying out its essential functions must always remain neutral between opposing parties in disputes coming before the court in St Christopher and Nevis. If this persists or become an entrenched part of the culture of the court office, the court will not hesitate to use its powers under its inherent jurisdiction to preserve its processes from any actual or attempt to misuse or abuse,” said Justice Ventose.
He continued: “It could not have been correct for the Registrar of the High Court to direct Counsel *(for Tanzil) to come and explain the ex parte application to her because the ex parte application was simply not one over which she had no jurisdiction. The court is of the opinion that it could see no good reason why this ex parte application was not immediately listed for hearing before a High Court Judge or Master. Moreover, if there were any serious issue with such an application, (or any other), it should have been brought immediately to the attention of a High Court Judge or Master.”
Justice Ventose said it “is completely unacceptable that an application that was filed on January 23, 2018 was listed by the court office to be heard by a Master approximately nine (9) months later on October 9, 2018.”
“The administration of justice will effectively be compromised if this were to become common practice,” he said.
Justice Ventose also noted that the concerns of Counsel for the Claimant in his letter to the Registrar of the High Court, Mrs Janine Harris-Lake, dated May 23, 2018 “appear to the court to be entirely justified.”
Justice Ventose pointed to a note dated February 16, 2018 with the initials of Registrar Janine Harris-Lake stating: “Counsel to come and explain this application to me as I am confused.”
On May 23, 2018, the Claimant wrote to the Registrar indicating why after 4 months the Claimant’s ex parte application for default was returned to them with no date set for hearing by High Court Judge or Master.
On July 18, 2018, Counsel for Claimant again wrote to the Registrar noting that this letter was a final pre-action letter before filing an application for leave to apply for judicial review seeking to elicit appropriate actions and or responses from the Registrar in her capacity as Registrar of the High Court.
On July 25, 2018 – The Registrar replied noting that she took serious issue with the contents and tone of the May 23, 2018 letter which she states is a “patent attempt to malign (her)self, (her) brother *(Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris)* and the Government of this Federation.”
The Registrar of the High Court continued that Counsel’s “accusations are baseless and appear to be politically motivated and far exceed the ambit of reasonable representation” of the Claimant.
Janine Harris-Lake further wrote that she found Counsel’s letter to be “very insolent and disrespectful and in demanding me to act; you have overstepped your bounds. I take instructions from the Chief Justice, the Judge, Master and Chief Registrar and no one else.”
On October 9, 2018 – The High Court entered Judgement in Default with terms to be determined. The Court recognised that the application to set aside default judgement was premature and dismissed it because judgement had not been entered at the time of filing of the application to set aside the default judgement.
The Court also dismissed the application to strike out the claim form and statement of case because the request for judgement in default was first in time and had not been determined in accordance with CPR 2000.
The judgement notes that the Application for Extension of Time was filed (two years and one month – 25 months) after the deadline to file a defence was passed and that the Registrar perfected the October 9, 2018 default judgement (16 months after the court entered the judgement in default.
In his judgement, Justice Ventose the Harvard-trained Grant and the UWI-trained Powell liable for breach of trust, breach of fiduciary duty and failure to account or misappropriation of US$460,000 (EC$1.2 million) belonging to a client, Tanzania Tobing Tanzil.
He also ordered Grant and Powell appear before a Disciplinary Tribunal of two Judges of the High Court to consider whether they should be suspended from practising for a specified period of time or be struck off from the Court Roll.