Peter Saville Hughes v Minister for Economic Development

CourtRoyal Court
JudgeThe Bailiff
Judgment Date20 March 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] JRC 58A
Date20 March 2015

[2015] JRC 58A




W. J. Bailhache, Bailiff, sitting alone.

Peter Saville Hughes
Minister for Economic Development

Advocate G. G. P. White for the Respondent.


Royal Court (Appeals from Petty Debts Court) Rules 2004.

Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions)(Jersey) Law 1960.

Harbours (Jersey) Regulations 1962.

Public Services Committee v Maynard [1996] JLR 343.

Boyd v Pickersgill [1999] JLR 284.

Re Nolan [2014] JRC 078A.

Petty Debts Court Appeal — application for leave to appeal the decision of the Petty Debts Court dated 20th February, 2015.

The Bailiff

This judgment concerns the application by the appellant for leave to appeal, pursuant to Rule 4 of the Royal Court (Appeals from Petty Debts Court) Rules 2004, in respect of a decision of the Judge of the Petty Debts Court Mr David Le Cornu, handed down on 20 th February, 2015. Advocate Le Cornu's decision was given on two preliminary points which had been pleaded and which it was thought convenient to deal with as preliminary issues. The first was that the appellant was asserted not to have a locus standi to bring the claim and the second was that the claim was in any event prescribed by virtue of the Law Reform ( Miscellaneous Provisions)(Jersey) Law 1960. The application for leave to appeal gives as the grounds of the appeal that the judge misdirected himself on points of law relating to the preliminary issues and in particular, in relation to the limitation defence, to the rules around empêchment de fait.


The application for leave to appeal was dated 25 th February, 2015, and is therefore in time. In covering correspondence, the appellant has requested that the application be dealt with on the papers as he is currently living in England, but if a hearing were to be necessary, that he be given good notice of the time fixed for such a hearing as he would have to make arrangements to travel to Jersey. Having read the papers I feel able to deal with the matter without an oral hearing, full skeleton arguments having been filed by both the appellant and the respondent before the Petty Debts Court.


It is apparent that there is no substantial dispute about the core facts, although there is some dispute about the interpretation to be given to them. It is noteworthy that the appellant does not take issue in his notice of appeal with the summary of facts set out in the judgment of Advocate le Cornu.


The essential dispute concerns the vessel Marie France which was acquired either by the appellant or by his son in August 2003. It was registered in the son's name. In the second half of 2009, the vessel was damaged in a storm and was lifted on to the harbour wall at St Aubin. In December that year, the appellant's son moved to Australia. He did not affect any repairs to the vessel and he failed to pay the harbour fees or arrange for them to be paid on his behalf. At that stage, there was already outstanding harbour fees for the fourth quarter of 2008 in respect of the vessel, and a judgment in default had been obtained in the Petty Debts Court against the appellant's son in respect of these fees. Action had been taken against him because it was he who applied for registration of the vessel in his name following the change of ownership in August 2003. In November 2010 the Harbourmaster moved the vehicle from its location on the pier and in April 2011 he reached the conclusion that the vessel had been abandoned and he arranged for it to be sold at auction on 16 th April, 2011. On 22 nd July, 2014, the appellant issued a summons against the Harbourmaster claiming damages for the loss of the vessel and the cost of its recovery. He subsequently obtained leave to replace the Harbourmaster with the current defendant, and issued a summons against the current defendant on 15 th August, 2014, following which pleadings were filed and Advocate Le Cornu determined the issues of locus standi and limitation in favour of the respondent.


The decision handed down on 20 th February makes it plain that the Judge considered that the proper plaintiff was the son of the appellant, who is the registered owner of the vessel, and that accordingly the appellant had no locus standi to bring the action. It is clear that there is documentary evidence which supports that decision, but also that there is some documentary evidence which might go the other way. It is not clear that any evidence was actually called before the Petty Debts Court for the issue to be determined. At all events, I have seen not any transcript of evidence, and there is no indication of the appellant having been cross-examined on his evidence or of his having the opportunity of tendering other evidence in support of his case. It appears to me that there may be circumstances where the registered owner is potentially not to be treated as the actual owner and that the actual owner might in such circumstances be able to bring an action. It is not clear that this issue, which is really an issue of fact, has been appropriately dealt with in the Petty Debts Court and if this were the only basis for the decision, I would have granted leave to appeal. Accordingly, I turn to the limitation or prescription issues, on the assumption that, without deciding it, the appellant had locus standi to bring the action.


On the Court file which I have been shown, the action was commenced by summons on 15 th August, 2014. However, the Petty Debts Court Greffe seem to have maintained a claim summary form, on which stamps have been affixed, which refers to the original summons issued by the appellant against the Harbourmaster on 22 nd July, 2014. This document refers to the continuing proceedings beyond the issue of a revised summons to the respondent in August. It contains for example annotations with regard to the procedural orders made by Mrs Shaw in September. In those circumstances it seems to me that the proceedings were commenced by the appellant on 22 nd July, 2014, and that that is the effective date for the purposes of determining whether the proceedings have been brought in time or not.


The essence of the claim is that the Harbourmaster acted unlawfully by selling the vessel in April 2011. It is alleged the action was unlawful because Regulation 2 of the Harbours (Jersey) Regulations 1962 is in these terms, so far as is relevant:–

“(1) The Harbourmaster may issue a direction requiring the removal of an unserviceable or abandoned vessel or other obstruction from –

(a) a harbour; or

(b) territorial waters

(2) The direction must be –

(a) served on the owner of the vessel or obstruction; or

(b) published if the owner is unknown or cannot be traced

(3) If, within 7 days, the vessel or obstruction has not been moved in accordance with the direction the Harbourmaster may cause the vessel or obstruction to be moved.

(4) If the Harbourmaster causes the vessel or obstruction to be moved –

(a) expenses incurred in removing and storing the vessel or obstruction shall be payable by the owner; and

(b) no claim for damages shall lie against the Harbourmaster or any person who moved and stored the vessel or obstruction.

(5) If –

(a) the expenses mentioned in paragraph (4)(a) are not paid...

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