Seychelles Court of Appeal quashes Coetivy Island verdict in favour of Delhomme family
The Seychelles Court of Appeal on Wednesday quashed a decision of the Supreme Court to dismiss a case of the return of Coetivy Island from government property to its former owner, the Delhomme family.
The claim was made by Alain Hoareau, an adopted son of the late Andre Delhomme, one of the former owners of Coetivy Island.
The case pertains to a deal to purchase the island made in 1979 by the government of Seychelles at the time, and the owners, under an acquisition agreement. By deed of sale dated December 13, 1979, the vendors - Andre Delhomme and Madeleine Hery - agreed to sell the government the island at a price of SCR4 million. The government paid an initial SCR 2.5 million and was to pay the rest in five instalments of SCR 300,000 from January 15, 1980, to May 31, the same year but did not honour the transaction contract.
The case was dismissed by Justice Ellen Carolus in May 2021. The ground for the appeal was that Justice Carolus was wrong to find that the appellant's actions were prescribed under Article 2262 of the Civil Code of Seychelles.
The Article states that "all real actions in respect of rights and ownership of land and other interest therein shall be barred by prescription after 20 years whether the party claiming the benefit of such prescription can produce a title or not and whether such party is in good faith or not."
According to the court report, the Court of Appeal said that "having considered the record at the appeal with care, we determine that there was only one point for consideration and that is whether or not the learned judge was correct in law to raise the 20-year extinctive prescription."
It added that the Seychelles Civil Code distinguishes between real actions and personal actions. The general rule for personal actions is that they are barred by extinctive prescription of five years after the cause of action arose.
Therefore, the question of whether the judge was correct to conclude in her judgement that the appellant's action is a real action and not a personal action and whether or not the action is time-barred does not arise for consideration.
The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal on ground 16 which stated that the judge erred when she held that the appellant's action is prescribed and time-barred in law.
"The decision of Justice Carolus was hence quashed and the case remitted to the Supreme Court to deal with the action on merits only," said the report.
The plaintiff's lawyer, Frank Elisabeth, told SNA that the government raised the point of prescription before the Supreme Court saying that five years had elapsed since the sale occurred in 1979 therefore the court cannot listen to this case.
Elisabeth said that the Court of Appeal has taken a stance in their favour that in this case, the five years prescription does not apply.
"The fact remains that we will have to go back before the same judge for this case to be heard on its merit, with the only issue to be decided is will the island be returned to the owner or remain in the hands of the government?" explained Elisabeth.
Meanwhile, Coetivy Island is being used for prawn farming by the Islands Development Company, a state-owned enterprise.