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Jul 30, 2002

Merchant successfully sues Customs Dept.

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Xtra House Supermarket owner Jitendra Chawla, better known as Jack Charles is tonight having the last laugh after Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh awarded him a handsome twenty thousand dollars in damages for the breach of his constitutional rights by the comptroller of customs. The Chief Justice upheld attorney Dean Barrow’s contention that his clients constitutional right to freedom from invasion of privacy and from arbitrary search and seizure had been violated. The case involved one hundred and fifty sacks of Indian rice imported into the country on July twenty-sixth, 2001 along with some computers.

Dean Barrow, Jack Charles’ Attorney

“They use, what is usual in these circumstances, and what is known as a Writ of Assistance. And after they had gone to Mr. Chawla’s premises, and in fact gained entry by way of this Writ of Assistance, they seized the computers on which they have already paid duty, and they also seized some rice which they found during the course of the search for the computers. I complained of two things. First of all, the search had to be illegal because the Writ of Assistance entitles the comptroller and his agents to search for uncustomed goods. How could the computers have been uncustomed goods when the man had paid his customs duties on them and had cleared the goods. But secondly, I argued that these Writs of Assistance that customs uses are in any case unconstitutional. For this reason, the Writs of Assistance are pre-prepared, they are standard, they’re not issued to deal with any particular circumstance.”

“What was especially upsetting about this case though was that after Mr. Chawla, after Jack Charles came to court to complain about the breach of his constitutional rights, which took place let’s say a month after the incident occurred. The Director of Public Prosecutions indicated that he was going to charge Mr. Jack Charles for the computers and for the rice. Now he didn’t do this, there was no thought of doing this until the man came to court to challenge the actions of the customs. They D.P.P., swore to an affidavit during the course of the proceedings, asking the Chief Justice not to give back the computers and the rice, saying that they would be the subject of this criminal charge he was bringing against Jack Charles. And then and there the Chief Justice asked the Solicitor General to tell the D.P.P. that he was very, very upset over that development because it appeared that the D.P.P. was going to prosecute this man as a way of punishment for the man’s having dared to take the customs officials to court.”

Barrow says if an ordinary citizen cannot take a government department to court for violation of his individual rights, democracy is in trouble.

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