A group of retired Caymanians is taking government to court over its refusal to officially register some 200 beach access paths.
The ‘Concerned Citizens Group’ argues in its judicial review application that Registrar of Lands Sophia Williams was wrong not to register the rights of way, and that she was also wrong not to refer the matter to the Grand Court when the group appealed her decision. Attorney General Sam Bulgin also gave the registrar faulty legal advice, according to the judicial review application, which was filed by retired Caymanians Alice Mae Coe, Annie Multon and Ezmie Smith.
The group further alleges in its judicial review application that government is refusing to register the beach access paths because “government would like to retain a free hand in allocating lands to investors and other people without having to deal with well-protected rights of way”.
As far back as 2003, the group filed 500 affidavits from members of the public in an effort to officially register the paths.
Members of the group say they have been in constant dialogue with successive governments ever since. But it was not until 2017, when a series of beach access disputes put the issue back in the spotlight, that they received a response.
In a letter to the group, Registrar of Lands Williams said the law did not enable her to register the accesses unless ordered to do by a court, following a dispute.
She acknowledged that such access paths did acquire legal status under the Prescription Law after 20 years of use, but indicated that this could not be officially recorded on the lands register without a court order confirming the “existence, nature and extent” of the easement.
Coe, Smith and Multon sought to challenge that decision, but they were denied legal aid for an appeal.
They believe that the law permits government to register the paths on the basis of the evidence they have provided.
About a year ago, a judge ruled that they should be granted legal aid to push the case.
In the judicial review application filed on 1 May, the group acknowledges that they technically did not file the application within the allowed time to challenge government’s refusal. The group asks the court permission to file the application ‘out of time’, arguing that it would be in the public interest, and that one of the reasons for the delay was the lengthy process of obtaining legal aid.
“This is a case in which the interest of justice can only be served by a grant of leave to make the application out of time,” states the application, which is posted on the financial services site OffshoreAlert. “If an extension of time cannot be granted in a case where a significant part of Caymanian heritage, countrywide, is in danger of being completely eroded and in a matter where the law is very clear, it is difficult to imagine other cases where such an application might be granted.”
The group is being represented by attorney H. Phillip Ebanks.
The three applicants are well known for their involvement in a lawsuit challenging the closure of a section of West Bay Road as part of a land-swap deal between the Dart Group and the Cayman Islands government. In that case, the three applicants were joined by resident Betty Ebanks.
Grand Court Justice Alexander Henderson ruled against the applicants in a judgment published in February 2014, determining that the challenge had been “brought too late to be considered on its merits”.
In a judgment published in November 2014, the Court of Appeal upheld Justice Henderson’s decision against the applicants.