The longstanding legal battle between Barbudans and central government over land ownership on the sister isle has reached its pinnacle.
On May 3, the Privy Council – Antigua and Barbuda’s final appellate court – will hear the matter.
The case was filed in court by Member of Parliament for Barbuda Trevor Walker, who is also the leader of the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM), and founding member of the BPM MacKenzie Frank.
The case against the government was mounted by the two men following the passage of the Paradise Found Act (2015) which nullified critical sections of the Barbuda Land Act 2007 which speak to ownership of land on Barbuda.
In 2014, the government entered into an agreement with Paradise Found LLC to lease land in Barbuda for the purpose of constructing a tourism development project.
In order to give effect to the lease agreement, the government passed the Paradise Found Act with a provision that the Barbuda Land Act 2007 did not apply to the leased parcels.
However, Frank and Walker claimed entitlement to constitutional relief on the basis that they are Barbudans within meaning of the Land Act and that the land in Barbuda is owned in common.
Barbudans have practiced communal land ownership for centuries; the 2007 Act codified it into law. Efforts to overturn the practice have invoked a stormy response from many Barbudans who feel it will destroy their unique way of life and erase their cultural identity.
Walker said he is confident that the case will be decided in favour of the Barbudan people.
“It’s gonna be a final decision and we are very hopeful that at the end of the day this matter will be settled in a particular way so that we can move forward. We are very hopeful, confident that the matter will go in our favour,” he said.
Walker further explained that “when the matter was taken to the High Court, Justice Wilkinson basically said that we had rights and we own the land in common; the communal ownership is something that must be recognised.
“The government appealed to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal, and that judgement was overturned. We are now at the Privy Council and we are hoping that we get that matter sorted out,” he said.
The MP said the long-running case has cost thousands of dollars to fight.
“All this costs money and the government has spent a huge sum fighting the Barbudans on this, so we are getting it from all angles.
“The cost to go to the Privy Council, we can tell you in terms of our cost, is over $100,000. They are spending money fighting the Barbudans to the Privy Council to say that the land is not owned in common by the Barbudans,” Walker added.