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Barrister Dr Crowne: Govt’s Property Tax Act is unconstitutional and will fail in court

“The Constitution does […] permit laws to infringe constitutionally protected rights. Such laws must be ‘reasonably justifiable’ and passed with a special majority…

“The Property Tax Act, however, was passed with a simple majority. It cannot benefit from this Constitutional exception.”

The following Letter to the Editor regarding the legality of the PNM Government’s Property Tax was submitted by Dr Emir Crowne, Senior Lecturer (Mona) and Barrister:

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gestures to supporters at Balisier House after the election results on September 7. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gestures to supporters at Balisier House after the election results on September 7.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

The Property Tax Act is unconstitutional. There is simply no way to save it in its current form.

The crux of the Act’s unconstitutionality can be found in Part V, entitled “Recovery Of Taxes.” Those provisions—sections 31 to 47—all bestow incredible powers on the State. For instance, the provisions deem unpaid taxes to be charges against the land in question, and authorise seizures of personal property.

Those provisions directly, and quite plainly, infringe sub-section 4 (a) of the Constitution. Namely, “the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person and enjoyment of property and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law.”

The Constitution does, however, permit laws to infringe constitutionally protected rights. Such laws must be “reasonably justifiable” and passed with a special majority. Sub-sections 13 (1) and 13 (2) state that:

“An Act to which this section applies may expressly declare that it shall have effect even though inconsistent with sections 4 and 5 and, if any such Act does so declare, it shall have effect accordingly unless the Act is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a society that has a proper respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual.

“An Act to which this section applies is one the Bill for which has been passed by both Houses of Parliament and at the final vote thereon in each House has been supported by the votes of not less than three-fifths of all the members of that House.”

(See also, para. 2 of the Privy Council decision in David Gopaul on behalf of H V Holdings Limited v Vitra Imam Baksh on behalf of the Incorporated Trustees of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago, [2012] UKPC 1).

Photo: Property taxes are coming...
Photo: Property taxes are coming…

The Property Tax Act, however, was passed with a simple majority. It cannot benefit from this Constitutional exception.

Indeed, although our Constitution is modelled after the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the constitutional protection for property rights is something unique to Trinidad and Tobago. It is absent from the Canadian Charter of Rights of Freedoms for political reasons and concerns over the division of powers—between the Federal Government and the Provinces.

If the constitutionality of the Property Tax Act were put before the local Courts, it would be an ideal moment for our nation to chart its own constitutional jurisprudence and protect its citizens from the excessive reaches of the State.

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107 comments

  1. Sip some chamomile and calmese. You’re here getting worked up over exactly what… the timing of the appeal? In the Guardian && said an appeal was filed on Friday and rejected on Friday, therefore there could not be a listing for this morning. This morning the Government filed an appeal. Two possibilities:

    1) No appeal was filed on Friday and Faris, && and the Court of Appeal officer all got it wrong; or
    2) An appeal was filed and rejected and when Faris spoke he was unaware that it was rejected. Therefore, technically he was wrong when he said the appeal would be heard this morning, materially, it all amounts to not one ass. And we move on.

    • You miss my point! It was reported that ……. either the papers and news wires for or wrong or we were not told the truth . This is serious shit! I’m not worked up but concerned . As you said we move on and jamming still

    • If you pay close attention to what I wrote you would see that not only did I NOT miss your point, I both addressed and dismissed it. It’s quite possible that Faris was speaking based on the information he had at the time. Which was that the appeal was filed. He then projected (based on routine/experience) that the matter would be hear on an emergency basis on Monday… not knowing that the appeal would be rejected on Friday self. It’s really not that difficult except to those who allow themselves to be sucked in by the UNC and their nonsense.

    • When will we tire of this nonsense in this country? the courts running the country. KPB,” I will make this country ungovernable” that was her her promise to us and she is delivering. Silk unto silk and corrupt rogue lawyers impeding what is law. So many pertinent issues and being caught up in all this nonsense. Why are they trying so hard not to pay the taxes? Who own all the businesses,warehouses and gated communities and homes abroad? Are the poor complaining? Every institution in this country has been eroded. No one is independent. Everyone has chosen sides regardless of the issue, Lose election-Go to court, New Commissioner of Police-Go to Court, FACTA bill -go to Court, Property tax go to court and the list goes on. Oppose for opposing sake. Make the government look bad. It’s not about country but self, ego and cant take losses. PP never cared about the people. ‘nuh try to fool me now” Conspiracy theory Have you noticed cases are almost always located in South Courts and who are the judges. (coincidental or strategic?) Gamers . The Nation tired. You hear obstructionist justify their nonsense by saying the public wants to know. Really!!! The average man wants to feed his family. Its the Opposition gamers who are intent on creating instability. Look at our neighbours Venezuela, This did not happen overnight. If we sit back as passive Trinidadians and let these fools continue with this crap, my grandchild in for a rough future. More importantly, No one is talking about the elephant in the room “RACE” Trinis good at playing games,Over the last decade or more politicians have used the race card and politics to divide the country. Sadly bandwaggonist perpetuate the nonsense by watering the seeds dropped by politicians.Wake up my people

  2. I’m enjoying how some of you taking sides in this mess. It was reported on Friday evening in the news (i heard it here in houston) that an appeal was filed. I read it in Saturday morning in the press. Then I Hear Sunday night that nothing was filed until Saturday evening. So who playing with we head? Stop taking sides! Our country in a mess and those in high offices playing with our head!

    • Much ado about absolutely nothing.

    • Nigel S. Scott it is nit much ado about nothing! This is serious as it suggest either (1) a non adherence to process (2) that it’s indeed easy to take the population for granted .

      Both are serious issues. We have seen in recent past that a non adherence to process can lead to significant and even potentially constitutional crises as in the jlsc . And we spent the last several decades being taken for granted. This is a serious matter!

    • Post from Clarence Rambharat

      The Court of Appeal has granted an extension to the order made on Friday by High Court judge Frank Seepersad that brought a halt to the requirement of property owners to complete and submit Valuation Return Forms (VRFs) as government seeks to implement the collection of property tax.

      The extension was granted until June 6, given that the court had no option but to adjourn the hearing of the appeal which, contrary to what was previously stated, was only filed this morning.

      As such, Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan, who is leading the case for the former government minister Devant Maharaj, to whom the stay was granted, said he needed time to peruse the documents filed, as well as time to respond to those documents.

      Justice of Appeal Peter Jamadar, who, along with Justices Gregory Smith and Judith Jones, presided over the case, at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, said the court also needed time to view the documents.

      Ramlogan was granted until this Friday to file his submissions while, attorneys for the Commissioner of Valuations as well as the Office of the Attorney General were granted until May 31, to respond. The matter will be recalled on June 6, when it is expected to be heard and a ruling delivered.

  3. Khamal Ethan Georges
    4 mins ·
    Further delay to property tax implementation. Court or appeal sets June 6 to hear state’s appeal of last Friday’s ruling.