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Jan 28, 2014

Chief Justice issues decision on Pickwoad land dispute; injunction stands

Since December, a prime parcel of land located on Chetumal Street has been the center of intense legal dispute. In a nutshell, the piece of land in Belama Phase One was leased to Bernadette Pickwoad, a Belizean who resides in the US. She has commenced construction because she plans to return. But in early December she discovered that the parcel had been taken away and was now in the hands of Maude Williams and Mervin Castillo, who had then applied for title. Williams is the mother of former C.E.O. and current political aspirant Beverly Castillo. Mervin Castillo is her son. The alleged new owners also commenced construction, actually building on top of piles which Pickwoad had already driven. On December thirtieth Pickwoad got an injunction to halt that construction pending a hearing on the matter. And in January, Beverly Castillo and her family applied to have that injunction quashed. Today Chief Justice Benjamin delivered his decision on the matter and Mike Rudon has the story.

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Mike Rudon, Reporting

At eleven this morning, attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd exited Supreme Court number one after hearing the decision of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin in the injunction matter. She was the bearer of good news of sorts. On the bright side, the battle had been won, but the cloud to that silver lining is that the war will now be expedited.

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Attorney for Bernadette Pickwoad

“This morning, we appeared before the Chief Justice to hear his ruling on whether or not the injunction will remain, and he did rule that the injunction will remain. He doesn’t want it to remain for too long because he wants the matter to be resolved so we hope to have a quick trial. The essence of the injunction is that the third and fourth defendant cannot go on the property and do anything on it, so the persons who presently were building cannot continue building until after the trial, and the government cannot go ahead and publish the notice in the gazette that makes a lease final. That’s basically it, and that’s basically what we wanted.”

 

The ruling today means that whatever the decision when the matter is heard…for now the land remains as it is. That is important, especially so because of reports that there had still been attempts to commence construction despite the order of the courts.

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“The Chief Justice is looking at an issue of fairness as any judge should. It should mean that we know how the ruling will go. It just means…think about it…if I am asking you to give back my land, why would I allow someone else to do everything with my land so by the time my land is returned to me it is really just an academic exercise because now someone else has an interest. So the way the law looks at things is trying to balance things, to maintain the status quo so that then you can proceed with whatever the decision the court makes from a fair basis where the playing field is leveled, so that is what it really means.”

 

Beverly Castillo

The Pickwoads are fighting to hold on to the parcel of land which was to have been the home of Bernadette Pickwoad. But indications are that the cards are already being stacked against them, at least where the Lands Department is concerned. Castillo enjoyed a lofty position as deputy boss of the ministry until very recently, and is now a favored political aspirant. No surprise, then, that Shepherd says the Ministry has been less than forthcoming, and maybe much more than that. Title for the piece of land has been issued to Maude Williams.

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“Finally through the evidence they presented, that is how our client was able to ascertain that title had actually been issued. We were not able to ascertain that through the official channels through the Lands Department. To date we have made written requests to the Commissioner of Lands for copies of the file for us to see what is all the documentation…it has not been possible. We have paid for copies of the register and we were given pieces of it and there were explanations why we can’t get it. I think beyond this case, one thing I have learned dealing with a lot of land matters is that we have a fairly unjust land system, and I say that because it is not working for a lot of people, and unfortunately a lot of Belizeans don’t have the money to come to court and fight a case.”

 

Reporter

“Can you say what date the title was issued to the Castillos?”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“Shockingly, the fifth of December! I say shockingly because I personally had called at the Lands Department sometime around the twentieth of December or just before, and I called and asked them because I had seen in the newspaper that Ms. Maud Williams had asserted that she had title, but we couldn’t get that through the official channels. So I called just before I filed my claim. I said I had read this, can you tell me…and they said no, it’s not there…it’s not in the system.”

 

The Ministry of Natural Resources is also named as a defendant in the matter, and has reportedly stated that there is the option of compensation on the table. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

All parties return to Court on February third to receive instruction from the Chief Justice and for him to put in motion a ‘speed trial.’ 

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1 Response for “Chief Justice issues decision on Pickwoad land dispute; injunction stands”

  1. ceo says:

    These are the things that need to be corrected in our system of governing the country. This should never have happened and should never be allowed to continue. If there is a lease a notice of intent should be issued allowing enough time for the current leas-holder to respond. Doing business this sort of underhanded way only causes strife and creats enemy.

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