Judge sets aside default judgment in land dispute

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Joan Charles –

A High Court judge has set aside a default judgment in a property dispute between a woman and her aunt over land in Sangre Grande.

On May 14, Justice Joan Charles upheld the application by Annette Francis to set aside her previous order in July 2023 in favour of her niece Arlene Cressida Singh-Dattoo. The default judgment was granted after Francis failed to appear for the first hearing of the matter, which was treated as the trial of the complaint.

However, in her ruling, Charles said after reviewing the reasons given by Francis in her application to set aside the judgment, she found that she had experienced difficulties in getting legal representation because of her age and finances and her inability to use and access the technology for the court hearing.

For these reasons, the judge set aside the default judgment. As a result, the claim over ownership of the disputed property will go to trial.

In her application, Francis said she had applied for legal aid and in May 2023, an attorney from the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority was assigned. She claimed she was told to make a video recording of the interior and exterior of the premises on the disputed property.

Francis said she was surprised to discover no defence was filed on her behalf nor was she told of her niece’s application to treat the case management conference as a trial.

When she went to the legal aid attorney’s office in July 2023, she said she was told the matter was completed and an order was made against her that she immediately vacate the property.

Francis said she approached another attorney to represent her but was eventually able to get Kiel Taklalsingh to represent her.

“I find that the defendant’s affidavit contains sufficient evidence that she took reasonable steps in attempting to obtain legal representation and defending against this matter.

“I find that the defendant has advanced a sufficiently good reason as to why the application was late and also as to why she did not attend the scheduled hearing of the matter,” the judge said in her ruling.

Attorneys Hayma Ramdhanie-Seemungal and Vanessa Mc Connie represented Singh-Dattoo.