Astaphan: JCPC decision paves way for Barbuda land ownership

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Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda (file photo)
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By Kadeem Joseph

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A noted attorney believes that the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council’s (JCPC) decision to dismiss a claim by two Barbudans that land there are owned in common will bring an end to decades of tension between the central government and the sister isle.

Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan, who formed part of the government’s legal team, said the JCPC confirmed what members of the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party administration had believed all along.

“The Privy Council suggested or said that the Barbuda Lands Act was in fact overruled by the Crown Lands Regulation Act of 2018 which was passed by the parliament,” he explained. “So, the issue of lands rights and land ownership and the right to own land now will have to be determined by that piece of legislation.”

Astaphan believes that the ruling gives Barbudans the opportunity to purchase land on the sister isle, based on his recollection of the 2018 law.

In the ruling that was released on Monday morning, the London-based court concluded that the claimants — Member of Parliament for Barbuda, Trevor Walker, and the current Chairman of the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) controlled Council Mackenzie Frank — have no realistic prospect of succeeding in their claim under section 9 (1) of the Constitution so the Court of Appeal was correct to strike out that claim.

Attempts to contact MP Walker, Frank or their attorney Justin Simon QC were unsuccessful on Monday.

Meanwhile,Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that the ruling did not come as a surprise to him.

“We would have argued vehemently over several years that there was nothing in the law that supported the frivolous argument of collective ownership promoted by BPM members and their UPP allies,” he said. “The very alliance between the two was predicated on that ownership myth. They knew better but they have deceptively and deliberately sought to institutionalise and weaponise the myth of ownership to achieve and maintain political relevance.”

Browne believes that the sister isle will not progress without a developed property rights system that provides individuals freehold and leasehold ownership, and said that his administration continues to work towards this “by creating the registry and selling the Barbudan people’s land for $1 per plot”.

He added that this move will lead to sustained development in Barbuda and the empowerment of the sister isle’s people.

Meanwhile, the Political Leader of the United Progressive Party Harold Lovell has suggested that this may not be the end of the matter.

“This is a matter that the Barbudans will have to look at in terms of where they go from here. But we stand in solidarity with the Barbudans with their moral historical claim and we believe that politically, this is a matter that can be addressed with a change of government,” Lovell said.

Many on the sister isle have long fought to protect their land rights and the overall untouched nature of Barbuda.

With the Privy Council’s latest ruling, the development of the island now seems all but certain if plans by the government to make the island green and a high-end tourist attraction are realised.

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