Electra Daniel v Attorney General

From the Court of Appeal of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

The Hall of Justice in Port of Spain house Trinidad and Tobago’s Supreme Court of Justice: the High Court (Assizes and Civil Courts), the Court of Appeal and the Probate Registry. It is the Republic’s main court complex. It omitted to make any special provision for the disabled,

above all direct wheelchair access through the public entrance at the top of the steps on Knox Street. Those confined to wheelchairs had instead been permitted on prior application to gain entry to the Hall of Justice by elevator reached through the basement car park. George Daniel, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter of Disabled Peoples International and himself confined to a wheelchair issued an originating motion pursuant to section 14 of the Constitution.

By the motion the appellant asserted the violation of three of his fundamental rights and freedoms under section 4 of the Constitution:

“(a) 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;

(d) the right of the individual to equality of treatment from any public authority in the exercise of any functions;

(g) freedom of movement;”

Following the issue of the constitutional motion the Court Executive Administrator at the Hall of Justice, issued tender invitations in December 2005 and January 2006, inviting an analysis of the building and its facilities and architectural solutions to the problems of access for the disabled.  Following the hearing of the motion, Bereaux J gave judgment on 20 July 2007, upholding the appellant’s complaint under section 4(a) but dismissing it under sections 4(d) and 4(g). The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the judge had been wrong not also to have found violations of sections 4(d) and 4(g) and to have made further declarations accordingly.

The appellant for the first time in the proceedings mentioned damages, asserting that: an award of vindicatory damages should be made to ‘reflect the sense of public outrage, emphasise the gravity of the breach and deter future breaches’. The appeal before the Court of Appeal was dismissed (with no order as to costs). The Court of Appeal took the view that it was both unnecessary and inappropriate to decide whether the judge had been right or wrong in ruling against the appellant in respect of his complaints under paragraphs (d) and (g) of section 4. The plain fact was that the self-same undisputed facts were relied upon to support the complaints under those paragraphs as the complaint under paragraph (a) and that no different substantive outcome (by way either of remedial works directed or, indeed, if appropriate, damages) would have resulted from a different conclusion as to whether the other paragraphs were also breached. In other words, it simply did not matter whether or not there were breaches of the other paragraphs of section 4 too. The core grievance of the disabled had been recognised. The Board agreeing with the Court of Appeal also held that it was ill-judged of the appellant to pursue the further appeal and thus dismissed the appeal.