Dear Mrs Macaulay,
My common-law husband and I bought properties when we were together, however I was physically abused throughout the years and had to run to another country just to get away. He died and did not leave a will. When I came home to sort out my affairs I discovered that the titles to all properties had been falsified to state that I had surrendered my portion to him as gifts. The signature was not mine. Also, someone had turned over the matter to the Administrator General.
When I visited the Titles Office, they had no copies at all of the titles. I reported the matter to the Fraud Squad and hired a lawyer, but to date nothing has been done. I have been paying for all sorts of supposed legal letters, etc, and when I contacted my lawyer recently to ask what is being done, I was told, "you can't sue the government". Is this true? Is there no justice for this act?
I am sorry to learn of the abuse you allege you suffered at the hands of your common-law spouse. Assuming that he was in law your common-law spouse — that is, that you had been living together as if you were in fact man and wife for a continuous period of five years before you left, why didn't you take any legal action against him for the alleged abuse? Did you apply for protection orders in the Family Court before you left? Or did you just decide to leave the island?
How long did you stay away without seeking to sever your interests in the properties you had purchased together? How long after his death was it that you returned to attempt to sort out your affairs? Did you, having discovered that his death had been reported to the Administrator General, go to that office and seek to establish your status and interest in his estate?
How can the Titles Office not have copies of all the titles to your properties if they were registered lands?
If, as you say, your signature was forged on the transfers of your shares in the properties, and you reported this to the Fraud Squad and nothing was done, did you then report the Fraud Squad's failure to act to the Police Public Complaints Authority or to the Commissioner of Police? Did you or your legal representative seek the opinion of a handwriting expert about the signatures on the tranfers?
If you did so, and it proved your allegation of forgery, did you send a copy of the report to the Administrator General?
I have asked all these questions because your answers to these are very relevant, and if the Fraud Squad has indeed failed to act, a complaint by you may result in some future positive action. That, with the report of the handwriting expert upholding your allegation of forgery, would definitively prove your claim.
I am surprised by what you say your lawyer told you that "you can't sue the government". Are you sure you did not misunderstand him or her? I ask this because it is inconceivable to me that any person, nay more a lawyer, would say something like this. Of course you can sue the government! Such actions, however, must be filed against the relevant government entity or minister or official with authority over the relevant agents of the government whose actions in the course of performing their duties, have adversely affected a citizen's rights, their persons or property.
I would have thought that your lawyer would have advised you and sought a handwriting expert's opinion on your questioned signatures by which your interests in the properties were transferred to your deceased common-law spouse, as a first step in pursuing your claim of wrongdoing and deprivation by him during his lifetime.
If the expert opinion is that they are your signatures, then your claims are non-starters. In such a case, there would be no point in doing anything further. If, however, the expert opinion supports your allegation of your signatures having been forged, then an action should have been filed in the Supreme Court for (1) a declaration that your purported signatures on the transfers were forgeries; (2) a declaration that consequently, the transfers of your interests as a result on the respective titles were effected by fraud; and (3) an order that the Registrar of Titles cancels the said transfers and reinstate your interests in each of the properties in their respective titles.
Not having full instructions — that is, facts from you — it is my opinion in such circumstances that the claim/action I have suggested for the declarations and consequential order should be filed with you as Claimant and the Administrator General (administrator of his estate) and the Registrar of Titles as the Defendants.
If such actions were not taken on your behalf, then I suggest that your should try yourself to get the handwriting expert's opinion.
Check with Central Police Station and seek assistance there to make contact with the expert and then find yourself other legal representation. The Administrator General's office must be informed that the estate ought not to be settled until after your claim has been proved or disproved. But you must get a move on it, things cannot be held up indefinitely.
As to the other titles which you say are not at the Titles Office, it is possible that these lands are unregistered lands and so registered titles would have to be obtained for them. In such applications, you must ensure that you are a party.
I hope you proceed, because you should attempt to have your claims proved or disproved in the courts. This is why we have laws, and every citizen has a right to apply to the courts for legal and just decisions of their claims. Only the courts have the last word on any citizen's rights and claims.
Margarette May Macaulay is an attorney-at-law, Supreme Court mediator, notary public and women's and children's rights advocate. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; or write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Avenue, Kingston 5. Mrs Macaulay cannot give advice via e-mail.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and must not be relied upon as an alternative to legal advice from your own attorney.