15 June, 2010
Property rights: The sixth of the fundamental rights enshrined in our 1982 Anguilla Constitution is the right to protection from deprivation of our property. Section 7 of the Constitution provides that no interest in, or right that I may have, over any of my property, of any description, shall be compulsorily taken possession of, except by a law which says how I am going to get compensated for it.
Under the Anguilla Constitution, there is no restriction that limits government to taking away our property only for a public purpose, as in the rest of the
Caribbean. In St Kitts or in Antigua, government can only compulsorily acquire private property if it is for a public purpose. Not in Anguilla. In St Kitts or in Antigua, government must declare so in the Resolution acquiring the property. Here in Anguilla it is different. Government can confiscate our property for any reason at all, eg, just because they do not like the way we look. That is a little unusual in West Indian Constitutions. Normally, government must have a public purpose in mind, and must say so in the Resolution introduced into the House of Assembly.
As an example, in the now suspended Turks and Caicos Constitution, government could only take away private property where the acquisition “is necessary in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning, or the development or using of the property will promote the public benefit or the economic well-being of the community”. There is no such limitation in the Anguilla Constitution. Fortunately, this draconian power in the Anguilla Constitution has never, to my knowledge, been misused.
There are a couple of conditions under the Anguilla Constitution that government must satisfy before they can compulsorily acquire our property in
Anguilla. First, they must do it under a law. Second, that law must require the prompt payment of adequate compensation. The law must say how the compensation is to be given, and must prescribe the manner of enforcing the right to any such compensation.
You may think that is quite a mouthful. What it means is that Government can take away our property for any reason once they do it under a law, but Government must pay compensation for it.
And, when we are talking about property, it is important for you to realise that we are not just talking about land. We are talking about all kinds of property. I well remember one case a few years ago when an Anguillian teacher had deductions made from her salary that she had not agreed to be made. She very bravely took government to Court. The Court ruled that Government had to pay her back, because this amounted to a compulsory and illegal taking of her 'property' without her consent.