Fred Smith, QC, is urging the government to halt demolitions in The Farm shantytown on Abaco, until an ongoing judicial review on the matter is wrapped up and Supreme Court Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson has given her ruling.
Shantytown residents, who are represented by Smith, are challenging the government’s policy to get rid of shantytowns in The Bahamas.
Implementation of the policy was halted after Grant-Thompson granted an injunction in 2018.
Grant-Thompson was expected to give a ruling on Smith’s application to vary the injunction to cover all shantytowns across The Bahamas on Friday.
However, she did not do so.
“As we know, the court is considering the variation of the application for the extension of the injunction to Abaco and, of course, the court has a lot to consider,” Smith said.
“But, may I ask the respondents to please take instructions and invite them to ask their clients not to engage in any further demolitions until such time that the court has had a reasonable opportunity to deliberate and deliver its ruling in due course?
“I mean, we’re before the court and out of respect for the rule of law and respect for the judicial process, I invite the respondents to please, not do any more demolitions until the court rules. In fact, the better thing would be just until the end of this trial.
“As you know, m’lady, we didn’t seek an extension of the injunction on the first occasion, when we issued the proceedings, because there was no imminent threat for the demolitions in Abaco at the time. Notices hadn’t even been served in respect to the Abaco communities.
“So, I ask the respondents to please take instructions and to please advise their clients that in the spirit of respecting the rule of law and in the spirit of respecting the fact that this court is deliberating on the very issue of whether there should or should not be demolitions, that they please simply give an undertaking not to demolish until you give a judgment in this entire case frankly.”
He said he didn’t think it would be necessary for Grant-Thompson to have to deliberate on a variation of the injunction because “we are before you, on trial [for] the very issues”.
The respondents in the matter are the prime minister, the minister of labor, the minister of public works, the attorney general, Bahamas Power and Light and the Water and Sewerage Corporation.
On April 22, the Ministry of Public Works demolished dozens of structures in The Farm.
The following day, Attorney General Carl Bethel told The Nassau Guardian the demolished structures were in breach of the injunction, which prevents the construction of new shantytowns.
On Friday, Kayla Green-Smith, of the Office of the Attorney General, said the demolished structures “had nothing to do with the injunction”.
“The demolition related to unfinished structures and unoccupied, unfinished structures,” she said.
“M’lady, we note his concern and we will take it under advisement but we wish the court also to note that the respondents have never disrespected this court order and as I indicated, the structures that were demolished were unoccupied, unfinished structures that were demolished and they have nothing to do with this application that is before the court, m’lady.”
Green-Smith urged Smith’s clients to also respect the rule of law.
While noting the affidavit of Warren Johnson, Green-Smith said there were about 28 structures in the shantytown following Hurricane Dorian – a vicious Category 5 storm that battered Abaco in September 2019 and decimated two major shantytowns on the island.
Now, there are about 175 structures in The Farm, she said.
“It is clear the disrespect for the rule of law – contemptuous, m’lady,” Green-Smith said.
Smith agreed with Green-Smith, noting that “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”.
“If anybody has breached the injunction, then it is open to the respondents to take, as Ms. Kayla Green said a moment ago, that it would be contemptuous,” he said.
“So, if they have any evidence of anybody having been in contempt of the injunction, then please bring that person before the court and let them answer for their contempt.”
The hearing will resume on May 21.