The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) today ordered that a case concerning the firing of three employees of Sandy Lane Co. Ltd be returned to the Barbados Court of Appeal for an expedited hearing. The CCJ noted that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case. The fired employees had first challenged their dismissal in the Magistrate’s Court on the basis that they were dismissed without cause – a breach of the procedures outlined in their contracts.
The Magistrate determined on 24th September 2014 that the way the employees were terminated did violate the terms of their contract. On the same day, the company, through its attorney, verbally informed the Magistrate of its intention to appeal the decision. The attorney then followed this with a letter to the Magistrate on 1st October 2014, informing her that he was appealing and requesting the court’s reasons for its decision.
When the matter came on for hearing before the Court of Appeal, the court considered whether it could hear the matters since the appeals were not filed within 7 days from the date of the Magistrate’s judgment as is required by the Magistrate’s Court Act. Sandy Lane argued that the appeal was filed in time since the applicable rules governing appeals to the Court of Appeal are found in the Civil Procedure Rules which provide for a time limit of 28 days to appeal. It was also argued that it had given verbal, and written notices, within the 7-day period which would have satisfied the time limit under the Magistrate’s Court Act.
The Court of Appeal, referring to an earlier judgment of the CCJ in the case of Deane v Allamby, determined that its jurisdiction to hear appeals from the Magistrate’s court is governed by the Magistrate’s Court Act and not the Civil Procedure Rules. As such, the time for filing the notice of appeal was 7 days. Further, it held, the Magistrate’s Court Act requires notice to be given to the clerk, not the Magistrate, and this was not done. The court rejected the letter of 1st October 2014 by the attorney since it was addressed to the Magistrate and not the clerk. The appeal was dismissed.
In its judgment, the CCJ distinguished its earlier decision in Deane v Allamby from the circumstances of the instant case. It pointed out that, in Deane v Allamby, it did not even consider whether the Civil Procedure Rules had any relevance to appeals from a Magistrate’s court since the appellant in that case had not filed a notice of appeal under the Rules.
In this case, the CCJ determined that the appellant had in fact given “immediate, public notice of its intention to appeal” which was subsequently followed by a notice in writing, and both were within the time period prescribed by the Magistrate’s Court Act. In all the circumstances, notice was given as a matter of substance and it should not matter that neither counsel nor the clerk regarded those notices as compliant with the requirements of the Magistrate’s Court Act. Therefore, the CCJ concluded, the appellant had complied with the notice requirements under the Magistrate’s Court Act.
The Court opined that the regime for appealing under the Magistrate’s Court Act requires legislative intervention to harmonize it with the procedure under the Civil Procedure Rules, the latter being acknowledged as more convenient for appellants.
The CCJ allowed the appeal and ordered that the appeal to the Court of Appeal be restored and heard on an expedited basis. The judgment of the full decision of the Court, and a judgement summary, can be accessed via the CCJ’s website at www.ccj.org.