Prime Minister Allen Chastanet
By Caribbean News Now contributor
CASTRIES, St Lucia — In a ruling handed down on Monday, the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal reinstated a claim against Allen Chastanet, the newly elected prime minister of Saint Lucia, alleging breach of trust and misfeasance in public office. The action had previously been struck out by the judge hearing the case, which ruling has now been overturned.
On December 10, 2013, the attorney general of Saint Lucia filed a claim, which was amended on January 21, 2014, against Chastanet, as a former government minister, and Kenneth Cazaubon, former chairman of the Soufriere Town Council, in which several allegations were made.
Chief among those allegations were that Chastanet, while a minister of government and a candidate for the United Workers Party (UWP) in the 2011 general elections, requested, advised, received, permitted or acquiesced in the expenditure of the sum of $38,119 of public funds of the Council for the unlawful purpose of a campaign and political event for his personal and the political benefit of his political party, the UWP.
Those funds were raised by the government of Saint Lucia for specific community projects from the government of Taiwan.
It was also alleged that Chastanet knew or ought to have known or was recklessly indifferent to the fact that the conduct in question was unlawful and that, as a consequence, he acted in a manner that amounted to a breach of his fiduciary duties as a minister of government, bad faith and/or misfeasance in public office.
It was further alleged that Cazaubon, as chairman of the Council, abdicated his authority and acted in breach of his fiduciary duties when he acted on the request, instruction or direction of Chastanet and gave instructions to pay or caused the Council to pay public funds for the unlawful purpose of meeting expenses of a campaign and political event.
It is notable, the court of appeal said, that the funds were deposited into the Council’s account and were paid out of that account. Of significance is the fact that there was no clear pleading that the monies expended belonged to the government of Saint Lucia and as a result ownership of the funds was in issue.
In the light of this, Chastanet, on January 7, 2014, filed an application to strike out the entire claim filed by the attorney general on the basis that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the claim in so far as the attorney general lacked standing to pursue the claim.
That application came on for hearing on December 5, 2014, and on the same date the attorney general sought and obtained leave to further amend her pleadings. Pursuant to the leave granted, the attorney general further amended the statement of claim on April 23, 2015, so as to assert the government of Saint Lucia’s ownership of the monies. No defence or amended defence or additional affidavits were ever filed in reply to the further amended statement of claim.
According to the court of appeal, there is no indication that the judge was aware of the further amended statement of claim before he rendered his judgment. The judge focused exclusively on the amended claim and made several findings of fact based on those pleadings, notwithstanding that the further amended statement of claim had overtaken the amended statement of claim.
It is important to note, the court of appeal said, that the judge made those findings before any evidence was taken in the trial.
The judge found that the attorney general did not have standing to bring the claim and struck it out on that basis and also ordered costs against the attorney general. The attorney general, dissatisfied with the decision, appealed on several grounds.
The central issue in the appeal was whether the judge erred in striking out the amended statement of claim on the basis that the attorney general had no standing to bring the claim in view of the fact that the amended claim had been overtaken by the further amended statement of claim.
Counsel for the attorney general argued that there was no basis to strike out the claim on the ground of jurisdiction and, by virtue of the Crown Proceedings Act, she can institute civil proceedings on behalf of the Crown and thus has legal standing to bring a claim to recover government’s property.
Chastanet and Cazaubon strenuously resisted the appeal and argued among other things that the judge was correct in striking out the claim on the basis that the attorney general lacked standing to bring the claim and relied on provisions of the Local Authorities Ordinance to show that the Council is a separate legal entity.
However, in allowing the appeal by the attorney general, the court of appeal, in a majority ruling (Webster JA dissenting), set aside the judgment and sent the case back to the Supreme Court to be heard by a different judge and ordered each party to bear its own costs.
The full ruling may be found here.