Samuel Barnwell Claimant v The Attorney-general of Saint Vincent and The Grenadines First Defendant Wong Matthews Second Defendant [ECSC]

JurisdictionSt Vincent and the Grenadines
CourtHigh Court (Saint Vincent)
Judgment Date11 March 2010
Judgment citation (vLex)[2010] ECSC J0311-3
Docket NumberCLAIM NO. 493 OF 2005
Date11 March 2010
[2010] ECSC J0311-3




CLAIM NO. 493 OF 2005

Samuel Barnwell
The Attorney-general of Saint Vincent and The Grenadines
First Defendant
Wong Matthews
Second Defendant

Mr, Samuel Commissiong for the Claimant

Ms, Joezel Jack, Crown Counsel for the First and Second Defendant


The claimant Samuel Barnwell ("Claimant") is a farmer/proprietor and the Second Defendant, Wong Matthews ("Defendanf), was employed as a Senior Customs Officer, stationed at the E.T. Joshua Airport at Amos Vale, St. Vincent.


The Claimant in his claim alleges that on the 8th September 2005, he was re-entering the State from Tortola via the E.T. Joshua Airport, when the Second Defendant wrongfully assaulted him by ambushing him from behind his back and tossing him out of the Customs area. He also claims loss of $3,700 U.S. from his luggage while it was in the Second Defendant's custody.


The Defendants contend that Customs Officer, Camille Garrick, who was on duty at the E.T. Joshua Airport at the time in issue, obtained knowledge that the Claimant had not cleared Immigration or Customs upon entering the State; and was heading towards the exit door, having by-passed the relevant officials. Customs Officer Ganrick approached the Claimant and asked to see his passport to verify whether he had cleared Immigration. The Claimant refused, and began to express himself in a loud and aggressive manner, using abusive and insulting language, including proclaiming that the said officer was "stupid" and needed an education.


The Defendants further contend that Senior Customs Officer, Wong Matthews requested the presence of Customs Officer Garrick and the Claimant in the Customs Office in order to investigate what had transpired. This was when the Second Defendant then informed the Claimant that by verbally assaulting Customs Officer Garrick, he had committed an offence and his luggage would be detained until there was a response from the Enforcement Branch of the Customs Department. The Second Defendant and Customs Officer Garrick both contend that the Claimant at this time was asked to leave the Customs area, but he blatantly refused and had to be physically removed by the Second Defendant.


The Defendants further contend that the Claimant used force to re-enter the Customs area and by-pass the Customs Guard, Mr. Gideon Millington, but was restrained by the said Guard and led out of the Customs area. They further contend that the Claimant failed to make a Customs Declaration on arrival at St. Vincent on the 8th September 2005. They allege that he in fact submitted his Customs Declaration Form on September 10, 2005.


The Defendants also contend that, apart from the Claimant's allegation, there is no indication or supporting proof that, on arrival at the E.T. Joshua Airport from Tortola, and on the detention of his luggage, that the sum of US $3,700 was in the Claimant's luggage and further contend that any pain, injury, loss or damage suffered by the Claimant, if any, would have been wholly as a result of his own actions.


From the above synopsis of the evidence adduced by both sides, the Claimant claims or seeks the following reliefs:

  • (1) Damages for Assault.

  • (2) Damages for personal injuries;

  • (3) Exemplary Damages;

  • (4) The recovery of the sum of US$3,700 (United States Currency) which disappeared while it was in the custody of the Second Defendant'

  • (5) Costs.


I propose to analyze the evidence simultaneously with dealing with the issues involved, which I think the Court should concern itself with. I think the issues can be put under four broad headings as follows;-

  • (a) Did the Second Defendant have a right to assault the Claimant in the circumstances, and if he did, did he have the right to use excessive force?

  • (b) Was it necessary in the circumstances for the Second Defendant to detain the Claimant's bag?

  • (c) Was the Second Defendant not under obligation, legal, precautionary or otherwise to make a careful note of the contents of the hand luggage and have it signed by the Claimant and witnessed in the interest of transparency and consistent with the regular practices of a police officer when he arrests and is minded to charge an accused person?


In dealing with the first issue regard must be had to the allegation made by Customs Guard Camille Garrick to the effect that she was verbally assaulted and insulted by the Claimant after she accosted him and enquired as to whether he, the Claimant, had cleared with Immigration. From the outset I must state here and very forcibly that the behaviour of the Claimant on the day in question was unbecoming of the model hardworking businessman he portrayed himself to be. I found his behaviour to be rather rudeconsidering that he had been asked a very simple question by the Customs Guard Camille Garrick. I shall return to this later in the judgment.


Having said thus, I also find that the Customs Guard Garrick was quite overbearing in her handling of the matter, considering the manner in which the Immigration Officers handled the matter soberly. This makes one arrive at the belief in the Claimant's story that when he arrived in the arrival hall there were no immigration officers at post and this led him to go over to the Customs area to check on a box of foodstuffs that a friend had sent to a relative to see if it had arrived. It is my belief that if immigration officers were at post in their respective booths there would have been no need for the Claimant to take the chance to go to the Customs area first.


In the ensuing confrontation certain words were alleged to have been uttered by the Claimant to the witness Garrick, which she deemed as insulting and a verbal assault on her. These words have not been denied by Camille Garrick and the Second Defendant except to describe them as insulting and abusive. If these words are to amount to abusive, offensive and threatening language contrary to Section 101 (3) of the Customs (Control and Management) Act No. 14 of 1999, then the test to be applied ought to take an objective one. On this score I agree with Learned Counsel for the Claimant; the test in each case must be capable of being universally applied so as not to have a situation where the same words used in similar context may be construed by different persons in different ways. One can only imagine the confusion that would flow in the application of penal sanctions.


I, having said what I have said above, do not accept that the words allegedly used by the Claimant amounted to abusive, offensive, or threatening language. Let me reproduce the said words for proper effect. The witness Garrick said the Claimant said the following:-

"You are looking for a big job. You do not have the qualifications for that. In order to qualify go and educate yourself and you may get a better job than this. You are a pretty lady—" or words to that effect.

This is after the witness Garrick had told the Claimant, "You are a liar, Immigration wants to see you." As I have said before, the Claimant may have misbehaved and was rude,unbecoming his standing or "stature"...

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