Anand Beharrylal QC was instructed to lead in a breach of contract claim by a long established general contractor in relation to a government initiated project to design and build the Hero’s Park and Museum in Fyzabad, South Trinidad. Following a change in government the project was terminated with the relevant minister stating to parliament that this was essentially due to economic re-prioritisation.
The claim was brought initially against the employer under the contract as the only defendant. The employer, a State-owned company, filed a defence claiming it was not liable because it was the agent of the government ministry under a written agreement, the work was only partially completed and that the contractor abandoned the job without the contract being terminated. The government ministry in the name of the Attorney General was duly joined as a defendant and filed a bare defence denying agency.
The trial involved contested evidence from witnesses called by the contractor and employer. Under Anand’s cross-examination the employer was shown, amongst other things, to have failed in its disclosure duties including in relation to important contemporaneous records and photographs. The Attorney General filed no evidence and did not cross-examine any witnesses.
In closing submissions the Attorney General argued for the first time that the government ministry was acting ultra vires the Central Tenders Board Act and consequently it could not appoint the employer as its agent, hence it could evade liability under the agency agreement. The employer argued that it was the government ministry that terminated the contract as the principal under the agency agreement, that the contractor had abandoned the project and as an agent it was not responsible in any event. For the contractor Anand argued that in light of the evidence, the law on agency and the over-arching function of the Constitution as the supreme law which expressly prohibits exploitation of labour, the Act could not be used to defeat the bona fides claim of the contractor where the State had taken the benefit of the work, the Ministry ratified the agency agreement by making payments pursuant to it and even if acting ultra vires was unjustly enriched.
In giving judgment the High Court rejected the Attorney General’s and employer’s arguments and held them liable under the equitable principle of unjust enrichment where the work was undertaken on State-controlled property for public benefit and breach of contract for abrupt termination respectively.
Anand led Zeik Ashraph (Trinidad) instructed by Alvin Pariagsingh (Trinidad).
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Cases | 25 May 21