Judge orders homeless man to pay lawyers

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -A homeless man who took the Port of Spain City Corporation to court over an alleged decision to lock him and other homeless people out of Tamarind Square here at nights, has lost his lawsuit and was ordered by the judge to pay the legal cost of the city council lawyers.

In the lawsuit, Bernard claimed the homeless were adversely affected by the Corporation’s decision to place locks on the gates to deny them and other members of the public entry into the square.

In her ruling on Monday, Donaldson-Honeywell again held that Bernard failed to satisfy the court that the Corporation made a decision that ought to be reviewed. In October 2016, she refused Bernard permission to pursue a judicial review claim against the corporation for implementing the measure without providing alternative facilities for the homeless.

Three appeal court judges reversed her original decision and sent the case back for her deliberation. In December 2015, the corporation erected a fence around the square and later, locks and chains were put on the gates. Four of the five gates around the square were locked and the fifth gate has a padlock but has not yet been locked. The lawsuit contended that if this gate is locked, the homeless would have nowhere left to go.

Bernard argued that it was unfair to him and other homeless people as they will be denied entry into the square without any alternative arrangement for their accommodation. In her ruling, Donaldson-Honeywell said there was no evidence from the Corporation that it had decided to lock the gates to the square at night. She also found that the corporation did not limit the public’s use of the square in a manner that is unlawful. Donaldson-Honeywell also found the Corporation had no duty to provide accommodation or facilities to displaced people, nor did the homeless have a right to sleep in the square.

In arguing against an injunction being granted until the homeless man files an appeal, the Corporation’s lead counsel, John Jeremie, SC, said his client was very patient with Bernard for almost a year, when it first gave an undertaking not to lock the fifth gate. “We are not prepared to do so now,” Jeremie said, as he also pressed for Bernard to pay the Corporation’s cost to defend the lawsuit.

Bernard’s lead counsel, Christopher Hamel-Smith, SC, said while the decision to represent the homeless man pro bono (for free) was one for the attorneys, the court ought not to send a message to the, “voiceless and downtrodden”, that the courts could only be accessed by those with deep pockets.

“They are homeless. It would be unfortunate to say to the less-well off ‘you do so (bring a lawsuit) at your own peril,’” Hamel-Smith argued unsuccessfully, as Justice Donaldson-Honeywell ordered Bernard to pay costs fit for senior and junior counsel, to be assessed.