CCJ overrules Court of Appeal in latest ruling

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has overruled the Court of Appeal in the latest ruling in the matter of Errol Campbell v Janette Narine where the appellant, Errol Campbell, was represented by Attorneys at Law Sanjeev Datadin and Charles Ramson Jr MP. The matter concerned the validity of an agreement of sale for a property at a significant undervalue executed in December 1992 by Campbell’s mother-in-law, Mrs Feinmesser, who was the property owner, and Ms Narine (the Respondent) while Mrs Feinmesser was in hospital. Before the action could be filed Ms Feinmesser died so Mr Campbell acted in his capacity as executor of her estate and commenced legal proceedings.
After a trial in the High Court, the judge hearing the case, Justice George, ordered that the agreement be rescinded on the legal grounds of undue influence and failure of consideration. The matter was appealed by Ms Narine to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal in a majority ruling by Justices Carl Singh and B S Roy disagreed with Justice George and ordered specific performance of the agreement.

Charles Ramson Jr
Charles Ramson Jr

Agreeing with Justice George and the minority ruling in the Court of Appeal by Justice Cummings-Edwards, the CCJ re-affirmed the position of the law on undue influence and held that the focus was on the extent of trust and confidence reposed by Mrs Feinmesser in Mrs Narine coupled with the under value sale which was not readily explicable by the women’s relationship. Once such a suspicion has been aroused the evidential burden shifted to Mrs Narine in order for her to rebut the inference of undue influence to show that the transaction was the spontaneous act of the donor acting under circumstances which enabled her to exercise an independent will and which could justify the court in holding that the gift was the result of free exercise of the donor’s will. Relying on Lord Evershed in Zamet v Hyman [1961] 1 WLR 1442 where it was made clear that it is necessary to establish that the gift was made as a result of “full, free and informed thought about it”. At the trial, Justice George ruled that Mrs Narine failed to disprove the inference of undue influence. In addition, the trial judge after having heard the testimony of Ms Narine held that she disbelieved that Mrs Narine paid any deposit on the signed agreement despite the agreement containing a term that the signing of the agreement by Ms Feinmesser acknowledged receipt of the payment of the deposit leading Justice George to rule that there was lack of consideration required for the validity of the agreement.
Despite the majority ruling in the Court of Appeal, the CCJ held that there was no sufficient basis to interfere with the trial judge’s ruling since the finding of undue influence is a finding of fact.
The CCJ noted with dismay the sloth in the judicial system which saw the proceedings being instituted in 1996 and judgement delivered in 2006 some ten years later. Further, some six years later the appeal was heard and it took two years for the judgment to be delivered by the Court of Appeal. Interestingly, the matter was commenced by Mr Campbell’s Attorney-at-law Charles R. Ramson (Sr) and was finally completely by Sanjeev Datadin and the son of Charles R. Ramson (Sr), Charles S. Ramson (Jr). Ms Narine, the respondent, who lost the appeal with costs awarded against her as a result was represented by R Poonai, C Satram and M Satram.