Court: Crown can evict Turks political party

The Turks and Caicos Islands government is allowed to take ownership of the property upon which the ruling government’s political party headquarters now sits, according to a ruling issued by the territory’s Grand Court.

The judgment Friday from former Cayman Islands Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay Hale not only clears the way for crown ownership of the land, but also gives government the right to collect damages for trespassing.

Turks Attorney General Huw Shepheard said he was sorry the dispute had to be brought to court in order to resolve the matter.

“I very much hope it will now be possible to deal with the remaining matters amicably and for the [Progressive National Party] to accept the judge’s ruling and voluntarily to hand over possession of the building as quickly as possible,” Mr. Shepheard said.

The ruling was one of several crown land recoveries engineered in the Turks and Caicos Islands since the 2009 removal from power of former Premier Michael Misick’s government and direct rule instituted by Britain in the overseas territory. The civil recovery team in Turks has reclaimed more than 3,000 acres of land in the territory and almost US$20 million in cash paid or due to be paid to the local government.

With regard to the ruling on the PNP political party’s headquarters, Mr. Shepheard said he would “consider carefully” the judge’s ruling to determine whether damages should be sought against the party over its occupation of the building since 2006.

“These proceedings were always about recovery of the land and never really about money,” Mr. Shepheard said. “I will now have to consider whether it is in the public interest to take any further steps to seek to recover damages.”

The Progressive National Party could decide to appeal the judgment.

PNP Deputy Leader Floyd Hall testified during the court hearing that he mistakenly believed the political party had a lease agreement for the land. However, Justice Ramsay Hale rejected Mr. Hall’s evidence in her ruling.

“It is impossible to accept that Mr. Hall, an experienced accountant and leader of the party, and the man responsible for preparing the party’s accounts, was unaware that no rent had been paid in respect of the land,” the judge wrote.

Any claim for damages by the government could not be made against the Progressive National Party, the judge stated, because it was an unincorporated association and has not current legal existence.