Retired Teacher And Marine Biologist Fighting The Gov’t Win Appeal To Protect Land In Barbuda

(AP) — A top court in London ruled Tuesday that two residents of the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda have the right to challenge construction of an airstrip that critics say endangers fragile ecosystems and was begun without any permits.

The ruling by the Privy Council is considered a big win for John Mussington, a marine biologist, and Jacklyn Frank, a retired teacher, who launched a legal fight against the government of the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda in July 2018.

“The fact that this ruling comes almost seven years after John first discovered the bulldozing of the forest is no coincidence,” said Sarah O’Malley, an attorney with the UK-based nonprofit Global Legal Action Network, which helped attorneys representing the Barbudians.

“Environmental activists around the globe are often bogged down with procedural impediments making litigation costly and time-consuming, a subterfuge employed by those destroying the environment for their own profit.”

However, O’Malley said the decision would make it easier for “all who seek to protect nature” to legally challenge government actions.

The government of Antigua and Barbuda had argued that Mussington and Frank were “busybodies” who had no standing to mount a legal fight.

Mussington said the ruling would have “significant implications for citizens of Antigua and Barbuda who have long been suffering from the lack of transparency and accountability from key institutions and officials charged with implementing the planning laws.”

The ruling also is expected to set a precedent for other Caribbean nations fighting to protect land that wealthy foreign investors seek to develop, especially when investors seize upon economic opportunities following a catastrophe or national disaster.

A spokesperson for the office of Prime Minister Gaston Browne and a representative for the development did not respond to messages seeking comment about the decision.

The ruling by the Privy Council allows the two Barbudians to challenge an April 2021 decision by the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court that found the residents were not allowed to take legal action against the government.