Court battle over Diego Martin Merry Tones settled

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A file photo shows Merry Tones steelband performing at the Panorama small bands competition in February 2017. –

A DIEGO Martin steelband has been urged by a High Court judge to get its house in order and comply with a 2005 agreement for the holding of elections to establish a management committee.

The suggestion was made by Justice Frank Seepersad who approved an order that the Diego Martin Merry Tones Steel Orchestra (formerly the Merry Tones Steel Orchestra) was the lessee of the panyard in Bagatelle and the owner of the buildings and steelpans after parties came to an agreement.

The judge made the order on May 20, when a lawsuit the orchestra filed against former PanTrinbago vice president Byron Serrette and two others who are directors and agents of an entity called Merry Tones Steel Orchestra was expected to go to trial.

Last year, members of the interim management committee of the Diego Martin Merry Tones Steel Orchestra obtained an injunction against Serrette and the others restraining them from using the name “Merry Tones” or occupying the Diego Martin-based panyard, which will remain in place until September.

On September 22, 2023 Justice Karen Reid granted the injunction to the Diego Martin Merry Tones Steel Orchestra against Serrette, Lincoln Waldron, Patrick Augustine and Merry Tones Steel Orchestra.

The injunction was granted on the same day the Diego Martin Merry Tones orchestra’s members said they found out about an event at its Bagatelle Road panyard.

Their injunction application alleged that the three forcibly entered the panyard in March and had been occupying it ever since.

The injunction restrained the three and the new entity from occupying the panyard in Bagatelle and using the name Merry Tones or any iteration of it.

Serrette and the others have agreed to de-register their company. If they do not, Seepersad ordered that the Registrar General expunge the company’s registration from the companies registry.

The Diego Martin band alleged it learnt of an application to incorporate itself with the same and similarly colourable name as theirs with the Registrar General’s department, and objected to it. However, the incorporation was allowed on June 28, despite the objection.

Seepersad referred to a 2005 court order involving the same members of the band, saying they should have complied with what was agreed back then.

“It cannot be disputed as a community-based cultural organisation, the claimant performs a valuable cultural and community role in the Diego Martin area.

“The benefit that is derived from the operation of organisations such as the claimant cannot be underestimated or denied.

“In context of recent events where young people are being led astray and led into gangs, organisations such as these can harness youth and have that energy channelled in a positive activity.

“The steelpan started on a grassroots basis but times have evolved and the need for formality and procedural regularity cannot be disregarded.

“What ought to have been done was not done in 2005.”

He also said while the court did not condone the actions of Serrette and the others, he could understand their frustration. For this reason he did not make an order for nominal damages of $10,000 for trespass as sought by the steelband’s interim committee members.

He also did not make a cost order against the trio.

In its lawsuit, secretary and treasurer of the Diego Martin Merry Tones Dennis Achille said the band was officially incorporated in 2023 but started, unincorporated, in the 1950s, taking part in the first Panorama competition in 1963 and continuing up to 2020.

It did not take part in the 2023 competition – there was none in 2021 and 2022 because of the covid19 pandemic – and the name Diego Martin Merry Tones Steel Orchestra was used interchangeably with Merry Tones Steel Orchestra from as far back as 1985, when it also got a lease for the property at Bagatelle Road. It has also been registered with Pan Trinbago since 1972.

He said in 2021, Serrette asked to discuss matters of “mutual interest,” but no discussion was ever held.

In March 2023, the band’s director said two people entered the property by force. Attempts were made to resolve the matter with mediation. He also said 22 members voted and approved the Diego Martin band management committee and its incorporation as a legal entity was approved on July 5, 2023. The other entity was incorporated on June 28, 2023.

Achille said since then, the other entity had tried to present itself as the band to PanTrinbago

The steelband’s interim committee was represented by attorneys Christlyn Moore and Renisha Hutchinson. Richard Clarke-Wills represented Serrette and the others.