9 Feb 2015

Forty years problem – no solution in sight

Recently, a judgement from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) caused me some surprise. Not because it once more highlighted poor judicial reasoning, but instead highlighted (and deliberately pointed out) an anomaly in the law. One that was pointed out since 1974, and which forty years after, has not been corrected.

Instead, the same situation is constantly referred to the JCPC by those affected and it seems as if the onus is on the JCPC to correct the failings of Parliament on this particular issue. Sadly, the issue affects thousands of people daily, and leave many in dire straights with no hope of a solution or remedy.

I refer of course, to the common and prevalent custom of a vehicle for hire (think maxi taxis, taxis and buses) where the owner is one person and the driver another, who is not named on the insurance of the owner. It’s common for this to occur in Trinidad and Tobago, with owners having fleets of vehicles in some cases, and the drivers are hired on a day wage basis to bring an income to the owner.

In the The Presidential Insurance Company Ltd (Appellant) v Mohammed and others (Respondents)  given on 3rd February 2015, the JCPC once more pointed out that victims in accidents are not insured under the Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third - Party Risk) Act (Ch 48:51; Act 39 of 1933) (MVIA). In The Presidential Insurance Company Ltd v Resha St. Hill from 2012 the same situation was pointed out, regardless of s7 of the MVIA. Both judgments ruled that the MVIA cannot forcibly indemnify a driver, regardless that he has the permission of the owner to drive the vehicle.

“The Board recognises that there remains a serious problem about innocent victims suffering bodily injury or property damage as a result of the negligence of uninsured drivers. Parliament has attempted to address this social evil but loopholes remain…/… The problem, which Edoo J pointed out in Eligon v NEM (West Indies) Insurance Ltd Case No 686 of 1974, 23 April 1982, remains.” 

It is not the remit of the JCPC to rewrite the laws of T&T. It is the duty of Parliament. It seems to me that despite the thousands or even tens of thousands of persons travelling on a daily basis in maxi taxis, taxis and buses having no insurance coverage and remedy in law for injuries caused by accidents through no fault of their own, the various governments since 1974 have not seen this as important enough to fix in Parliament.

Salary raises for MPs of course, are more important.