A High Court Judge is expected to deliver his judgment in former Housing Development Corporation (HDC) managing director Noel Garcia’s lawsuit over the findings of the Las Alturas Commission of Enquiry on September 28.
High Court Judge Kevin Ramcharan reserved his decision in the case after presiding over a brief virtual trial via video conferencing yesterday.
In his lawsuit, Garcia, who currently serves as chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of T&T (UDeCOTT), is claiming that the commission acted unfairly and irrationally by failing to inform him of the adverse findings of the report and giving him an opportunity to respond before publication.
Presenting submissions on Garcia’s behalf, his lawyer Colin Kangaloo claimed that he (Garcia) was ambushed by the findings as they were not contained in the salmon letter that was issued to him at the end of the proceedings.
In Commissions of Enquiry, salmon letters are sent out to people that will be subject to criticism once the final report is published and are intended to give people time to prepare for the exposure and potential additional legal recourse.
“It came as a surprise,” Kangaloo said, as he stated that the commission’s actions affected his client’s reputation.
Replying to Kangaloo, British Queen’s Counsel Richard Clayton, who led the commission’s legal team, suggested that Garcia should have been prepared for the eventual criticism because of the post he held.
Clayton also suggested that the adverse findings made against Garcia were a result of his weak testimony before the commission.
“It is because he gave such a poor account of himself before the commission, that they came to the conclusions they did,” Clayton said.
He also noted that Garcia had participated in other inquiries in the past , without issue.
Kangaloo suggested that his experience at such hearings was immaterial.
“It was because he participated in those inquiries that he expected to be treated fairly in this one,” Kangaloo said.
Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, who led the legal team for the Office of the Attorney General, stated that while his client is an interested party in the case, it had no position in the lawsuit.
“We have no interest in the matter except to assist the court. We don’t care one way or the other,” Hosein said.
The commission is also being represented by Jayanti Lutchmedial, Vishal Siewsaran, and Alvin Pariagsingh.
About the Case
The commission of enquiry was set up to investigate the construction of the Las Alturas Towers at Lady Young Gardens, Morvant. Former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar appointed the commission after two multi-story units of the housing project began falling apart after construction and were earmarked for demolition.
In the commission’s report, presented in September 2016, it stated that while there were no grounds for criminal proceedings to be brought against anyone, civil action could be taken against former UDeCOTT chairman Calder Hart, Garcia, UDeCOTT and the HDC for negligence in how the project was handled. Hart has also filed a similar lawsuit against the commissioners, which went to trial last year. The judgement in Hart’s case is yet to be delivered.
Retired Justice of Appeal Mustapha Ibrahim, who chaired the commission, was listed as a party but passed away while the case was still pending. The case was continued against the remaining commissioners- Dr Myron Wing-Sang Chin and Anthony Farrell.