Beach-access fight heads to court

Government is facing legal action over its decision not to register more than 200 historic rights of way to the beach.

A court date has been set for 9 Jan. next year for a judge to decide if there is a case to answer.

The Concerned Citizens Group is seeking leave to apply for a judicial review of the Registrar of Lands’ decision not to record on the official land register the 200 beach-access paths.

As far back as 2003, the group filed 500 affidavits from members of the public in an effort to officially register the paths.

The affidavits attest that the paths had been used for more than 20 years as walkways to the ocean. The group contends that this makes them public rights of way that should be registered and protected from encroachment and development.

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Members of the group say they have been in constant dialogue with successive governments since the affidavits were filed. 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 Sophia Williams said the law did not enable her to register the accesses unless ordered to 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.

Three members of the Concerned Citizens Group, Alice Mae Coe, Ezmie Smith and Annie Multon, sought to challenge that decision.

They were granted legal aid for the challenge after a series of hearings and now a date has been set to determine if the case should proceed to trial.

“If we are successful, then they will hear the arguments,” Smith said of the 9 Jan. hearing.

Ultimately, she said, the group wants the court to compel the registrar to make the beach-access paths official so they can be preserved in perpetuity.

“It is important to remember that we are a maritime community. Love for the sea is something we grew up with. The beaches are for the people,” she said.

“Everybody is talking about the port and all the tourists that will come. We have to make sure we have beaches and access paths for locals and visitors to get to them.”

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