(1) Edward Phillip Mathurin (2) Martin Julian Plaintiffs v (1) Magdalene Wilson (2) Lucielle Wilson (3) Eric Justin (4) Lucina Justin Defendants [ECSC]

JurisdictionSt Lucia
CourtHigh Court (Saint Lucia)
JudgeBarrow J
Judgment Date08 March 2001
Judgment citation (vLex)[2001] ECSC J0308-8
Date08 March 2001
Docket NumberCivil Suit No. 326 of 1999
[2001] ECSC J0308-8



Civil Suit No. 326 of 1999

(1) Edward Phillip Mathurin
(2) Martin Julian
(1) Magdalene Wilson
(2) Lucielle Wilson
(3) Eric Justin
(4) Lucina Justin
Barrow J

The Plaintiffs are in occupation of one portion of a parcel of land. The Plaintiffs accept that they do not have and have never had any title to the land in contention. The Plaintiffs do not claim a right to title. The Plaintiffs do not plead that they have the benefit of any limitation period; neither do they assert that they have prescribed. Therefore, say the Defendants, the Plaintiffs are mere squatters and have nolocus standi to bring an action against the Defendants to impeach their title. The Defendants are the former and current registered holders of absolute title to the land. The land in contention is Block 1450B Parcel 116 in the Dauphin Registration Section.


By summons dated 31st August, 1999 the Defendants applied for the trial as a preliminary issue of the point raised by them in their Defence that the Plaintiffs have no locus standi and therefore cannot maintain this action. The Defendants also sought, by that summons, to strike out certain paragraphs of the prayer for relief as being frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of process.


Saunders J heard the summons on 25th October 2000. He agreed with the Defendants that the Plaintiffs' Statement of Claim was deficient; it did not state any basis for the Plaintiffs' claim to be entitled to continue their occupation; it stated no facts which would give the Plaintiffs some right or interest over the portion of the land they occupied. The learned Judge found that apart from being embarrassing, the deficiency meant that the court itself was in no position to ascertain what was the real question in controversy between the parties. Instead of striking out, Saunders J exercised his discretion and gave leave to amend paragraph 1 of the Statement of Claim to give full particulars of the basis of the Plaintiffs' occupation. He expressly left it open for the Defendants to renew all limbs of their application.


The burnished paragraph 1 of the Amended Statement of Claim is in these terms:

"1. At all material times hereto the Plaintiffs were and continue to be persons in actual occupation and in the process of acquiring the right of ownership by prescription of the greater portion of a parcel of land registered as Block 1450B Parcel 116 (hereinafter called the Property) in the name of Phillip Felix."

The full particulars of the Plaintiffs' occupation set out thereunder do not need to be recited.


The Amended Defence and Counterclaim contains a vigorous denial of any right of the Plaintiffs. It denies that the Plaintiffs are in the process of acquiring prescriptive ownership and avers that the Plaintiffs can never prescribe because the First Plaintiff's occupation commenced as a matter of family arrangement and even during the land registration titling project the Plaintiffs claimed the property in the name of Phillip Felix. As with the Amended Statement of Claim, the amplitude of theAmended Defence and Counterclaim needs only to be acknowledged and not recited. At paragraph 11 is the point of law pleaded by the Defendants that the Plaintiffs have no locus standi because they have no title at all to the property and the institution of this action is frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of the Court process.


Before granting the application for the trial of the preliminary issue I considered that the saving of time and costs offered by this course is often aJack O'Lantern, taking proceedings into the swampland of assumed facts, speculation and hypotheses. The clear warning sounded by Lord Scarman in Tilling v Whiteman [1979] 1 All E.R. 737 at 744 is to resist this beckoning when it leads down the "treachous short cuts" of assuming facts which the Court will afterwards still have to try.


On the present application I am satisfied that there is no need for the Court to assume any facts. To try the issue I simply need to decide, based on the contents of their pleading, whether the Plaintiffs' claim is frivolous, vexatious and an abuse of the process of the Court. Confining myself to the averments they make in their pleadings I need, as well, to decide the kindred question raised by the Defendants: do the Plaintiffs have the necessary standing to bring this action?


The Plaintiffs say that they are "persons in actual occupation and in the process of acquiring the right of ownership by prescription to the greater portion of the land." The first Plaintiff says that he went into possession of the land, in his own right, from the date of the death of his grandmother in 1990. This assertion appears in two places in the Plaintiffs' skeleton argument as well as at paragraph 1(c) of their Statement of Claim. The Plaintiffs also claim the benefit of an overriding interest being their "rights acquired or in the process of being acquired by virtue of any law relating to the limitation of actions or by prescription" based upon section 28 (f) ofthe Land Registration Act. There was some justification for the protest by Counsel for the Defendants that this last claim was made only in the Plaintiffs' skeleton arguments and formed no part of either the original or the amended Statement of Claim.


In their pleading the Plaintiffs focus less on their rights to the land and overwhelmingly on impeaching the Defendants' title to the land. Their whole case is that the Defendants were guilty of fraud when they petitioned the court for the declaration of title. In their skeleton arguments, however, the Plaintiffs launched an all out prescription offensive, relying on the Civil Code, regional decisions and learning from Quebec to establish that the nature of their activities and presence was of a prescriptive character.


The first and second Defendants, both sides agree, were declared the prescriptive owners of the land by an order of the High Court dated 21st October 1998. These two Defendants thereupon became registered as absolute owners of the land. The third and fourth Defendants bought from the first and second Defendants and in turn became registered as absolute owners of the land. These latter Defendants were also guilty of fraud, say the Plaintiffs, because they had knowledge of and contributed to the first two Defendants' fraudulent petition.


The relief that the Plaintiffs claim includes a declaration that the first two Defendants are not the absolute owners of the property and that they are not entitled to any interest in the property. The Plaintiffs also seek rectification of the Register and damages to the Plaintiffs for the damage they have suffered" by reason of the Defendants fraudulently acquiring ownership of the land and their subsequent dealings with the land".


The argument of the Defendants is that it is only one who is entitled to be registered in place of the registered title holder who can challenge the latter's title. This is the central proposition of the Defendants. Counsel for the Defendants cited the case ofC B Bahamas Ltd vs. Arawak Homes Ltd (1984) 38 WIR 8 in support of this proposition. In that case the Plaintiff asserted that their certificate of title was indefeasible and that the Defendant lacked the locus standi to mount a challenge to the validity of their certificate of title because the Defendants lacked sufficient interest in the land. Gonsalves-Sabola J (as he then was) accepted the proposition cited in the earlier case of Johnson v Exuma Estates Ltd (unreported) that:

"Such a plaintiff must, I think first prove that he or she had an interest in the land in question which, if it had been brought to the notice of the court in the investigation of title proceedings, that Court would not only have directed a notice to issue to that person under section 7(1) of the Quieting Titles Act but also that the interest in the land thus disclosed was such as would be likely to defeat the title upon which that Court adjudicated and ordered a certificate of title to issue.Put another way, a plaintiff is to show that he has a prima facie title to the land which would have been likely to defeat the title presented to the court in the quieting of title proceedings. [emphasis supplied]"

In that case the challengers got past thelocus standi objection because they showed a prima facie title to the land which was found likely to defeat...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT