Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin has chosen to continue an injunction he issued last December on activity at the parcel of land, located corner Albert Hoy Avenue and Chetumal Boulevard in Belama Phase I, Belize City. The land is the subject of a dispute between former leaseholder Bernadette Pickwood and the Ministry of Natural Resources, which last November discontinued the lease on the property and gave it to relatives of former CEO Beverly Castillo. Now, says attorney for Ms. Pickwood Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the court wants to speedily resolve the issue.
Ms. Audrey Matura Shepherd- Attorney for the Pickwoods
“He did rule that the injunction will remain. He doesn’t want it to remain for too long because he believes the matter needs to be resolved, so we both could have a pick trial. The essence of the injunction is that there will be that the third and the fourth defendant cannot go on the property and cannot do anything in it. So the persons who are presently building cannot continue building until after the trial and the government cannot go ahead and publish the notice in the gazette, which makes a lease final”.
The case returns to court on February 3 for instructions ahead of the actual trial. Matura explains what motivated the court’s thinking.
Ms. Audrey Matura Shepherd: “It doesn’t mean that we know how the ruling will go; it just means that (think about it) if I am asking you to give me back my land, why would I allow someone else to do everything else with the land, so that by the time my land is returned to me, it is really just an academic exercise because now someone else has an interest. So, the way it looks like if I could balance things; we are trying to make things status quo so that then you can proceed with whatever decision the court makes from a fair basis. We will not know how the trial will go or not go. We want it to be a fair trial and the evidence will be at open court”. As for the question of the sudden appearance of title to the property, Matura detailed how difficult it was to obtain information to that end.
Ms. Audrey Matura Shepherd:“Indeed, finally, through the evidence that they presented is how our client was able to ascertain that a title had actually been issued. We were not able to ascertain its real official channels at the Lands Department. To date we still have made written request to the Commissioner of Lands for a copy of the files for us to see what’s all the documentation; it has not been possible. We have paid for copies of the register and we were given pieces of it and there were explanations why it came in so. I think that beyond this case, on the little that I have learnt on land matters, is that we have a fairly unjust land system. I say that because it is not working for a lot of people. Unfortunately, a lot of Belizeans don’t have the money to come forth and to fight a case”.
The title had been issued on December 5, about a month after the Pickwood lease was cancelled. Matura made checks after a publication in a local newspaper of the granting of title and was told by personnel at the Lands Department that the paperwork was only just being uploaded to the system.