Court name
Supreme Court
Case number
CIVIL CASE 125 of 1949
Case name
Kabgbae v Kofa
Law report citations
1950-1956 ALR SL 48
Media neutral citation
[1950] SLSC 20
Case summary:


Land Use Planning-building regulations-building permits-permit granted under Kroo Reservation Ordinance (cap. 115), r.5-holder put into sufficient constructive possession to support trespass action.

Kingsley, J




SUPREME COURT (Kingsley, J.): June 3rd, 1950 (Civil Case No. 125/49)


  1. Land Use Planning-building regulations-building permits-permit granted under Kroo Reservation Ordinance (cap. 115), r.5-holder put into sufficient constructive possession to support trespass action: In an action for trespass to land, the  person  who  normally  has  a right to sue is the person who was, or is deemed to have been, in

10               possession at the time of the alleged trespass; and a person who is granted a valid building permit under r.5 of Schedule B to the Kroo Reservation Ordinance (cap. 115) is thereby put into such constructive possession of the  land  as  to  support  an  action  in  trespass  (page 51, lines 32-41; page 53, lines 26-29).

Tort-damages-aggravation-trespass to land-exemplary damages awarded if aggravating circumstances:  Where a trespass to land is accompanied by aggravating circumstances, the  plaintiff  is entitled to recover exemplary damages (page 53, lines 33-34).

  1. Tort-damages-measure                                              of                                 damages-trespass to land-damages must  be  sufficient  to  compensate  for  actual  loss:  In an  action for

20              trespass  to  land,  the  plaintiff  is  entitled  to  recover  such  an amount

as will recompense him for any actual damage  or  loss  the  trespass may have caused him (page 53, lines 34-36).

  1. Tort-damages-trespass to land-damages recoverable even  though no actual loss suffered: Once trespass to land is proved the plaintiff

25              is entitled to recover even though he has not suffered any actual loss (page 53, lines 30-33).

  1. Tort - trespass - trespass to land damages exemplary  damages awarded if aggravating circumstances: See [2] above.
  2. Tort-trespass-trespass    to    land-damages-must   be   sufficient to

30                 compensate for actual loss: See [3] above.

  1. Tort-trespass-trespass to land-damages recoverable even  though  no actual loss suffered: See [4] above.
  2. Tort-trespass-trespass  to  land-possession  supports  action-holder of building permit under Kroo Reservation Ordinance (cap. 115),

35              r.5  put  into  sufficient  constructive  possession:  See  [l]                     above.


The plaintiff brought an action against the defendant to recover damages for trespass to his land and an injunction to restrain the defendant from repeating the alleged trespass.

40               Under Schedule B to the Kroo Reservation  Ordinance (cap.  115),

the   plaintiff   obtained  a  permit  to  build  a  house  on  a  plot  of land








KABGBAE  v.   KOFA,  1950-56  ALR S.L. 48                                                              s.c.

within the Kroo Reservation. The plans were prepared  and  the  plaintiff began work by fixing some sticks on the land; but he was unable to begin building operations  because  the  defendant,  in defiance of  the tribal  authority,  built  a house on the  plot.   The plain-

tiff brought the present action to recover damages for trespass and                                                   5

sought an injunction to restrain the defendant from continuing the


The plaintiff contended that the grant of the building permit

put   him  into  constructive                                            possession,                                               and               that   entitled             him to maintain  an  action  in  trespass  against the  defendant.                                                            10

The defendant maintained that the plaintiff could not  be  the  owner of the land since, under s.2 of the Kroo Reservation Ordinance, all land in  the  Reservation  was  Crown  land.  The  plaintiff's  claim to possession was therefore wrongful and could not support an

action  in  trespass   against  her  (the  defendant's)  actual  and  rightful                                                                           15



Legislation construed:

Kroo Reservation Ordinance (Laws of Sierra Leone, 1946, cap. ll5),

s.2(1):                                                                             20

"All   that   portion   of   land   described   in   schedule   A  hereto and

hereafter  referred  to as the  Kroo Reservation  shall .  . . be....................................................................... declared

to be . . . Crown land."

Schedule B, r.4: "The Tribal Authority shall permit applicants to build

houses on vacant lots and shall receive for such permission the                                                        25

customary fees."

Schedule B, r.5: "When a house  has remained  unoccupied  and  no claim  has been made thereto for a space of  six  months,  the  same  shall  be sold and the proceeds vested  in  the  Tribal  Authority  to  be expended for the benefit of the tribe under the provisions of the Tribal

Administration  (Colony)  Ordinance."                                                                                30

R.W. Beoku-Betts for the plaintiff;

Edmondson for the defendant.

KINGSLEY, J.:                                                     35

On January 27th, 1948, the plaintiff, who is a seaman, obtained from the Kroo Tribal  Authority  a  permit  to  build a dwelling-house on a plot of land situate at Nana Kroo Street in the Kroo Reservation.

This permit,  which  forms  Exhibit  A  to  these  proceedings,  was granted  under  rr.4  and  5  of  Schedule   B  to  the  Kroo  Reservation                                                         40

Ordinance (cap. 115),  and  following  this  the  plaintiff  had  a  plan 49









prepared which forms Exhibit B to  these  proceedings.  Then  on March 16th, 1948 he obtained the necessary permit from the Public Works Department to go on with the proposed building. This latter permit   forms   Exhibit   C  to  these   proceedings.     He  has  however

'.5       never  been  able  to  build,  because,  so  he  alleges,  in  defiance  of  the Kroo Tribal  Authority  the  defendant  has  herself  put  up  a  house  on the  said  plot  of  land.   Whether  this  house  is  fully  completed  or  not is  not  quite  clear.  By  her  defence  the  defendant  says  that  the plaintiff,   contrary   to  the   plea  in   the  statement   of   claim,  is  not and

10 never has  been  the  owner  of  the  disputed  land,  and  that  she  rightfully entered the land and is rightfully in possession of it. The plaintiff now claims damages for  his  being  deprived  of  the  use of the said land, and he asks for an injunction to restrain the defendant from continuing and repeating the alleged trespass.

15               Now, dealing first with the defendant's plea of possession, possession can of course be of two kinds, constructive or physical. While one person may be in constructive possession of land, another may be in physical possession of the same land. In this case at the material   time   the   defendant   was   and   indeed   still  is  in physical

20 possession of the land, whether lawfully or otherwise  I  shall indicate later. For the moment, I propose to assume that it is  physical  possession alone which counts, and thus to put the burden on the plaintiff, if he is to recover, to  do  so  on  the  strength  of  his  own title.    Whilst  the  statement  of  claim  does  not  expressly  state  in so

25 many words that the claim is for possession,  I  think  this  must  be implied in the claim for an injunction which seeks to restrain the continuance of a trespass which allegedly consists of the defendant having  put  up  a  building  on  the  disputed  land.  As  I  understand the  statement  of  claim, not  a model of  careful  pleading, the plaintiff

30 in effect seeks a mandatory injunction to  compel  the  defendant  to remove the said building.

Before I deal  with  the  actual  merits  of  the  plaintiff's  claim,  I think I ought to say a word about  a  submission  made  by  learned  counsel  for  the   defendant   at  the   close  of   the  case  for  the  plaintiff.

35 Mr. Edmondson submitted that there was no case to  answer  as  the plaintiff had alleged in his statement  of  claim  that he was  the owner of the disputed land, a claim  which  could  not  be sustained, he said,  in view of the express provision in s.2 of the Kroo Reservation Ordinance  (cap. 115)  that  all the  land  in  the  Kroo  Reservation was

40 Crown land. Mr. Beoku-Betts,  who  had  not  himself  settled  the statement  of  claim, suggested that the word "owner" was obviously, as





KABGBAE v. KOFA, 1950-56 ALR S.L. 48


he put it, a misuse of language by learned counsel who settled the pleading, and that it must mean possessor by virtue of the wording in the particular paragraph having regard to the provisions of the Ordi­ nance regarding ownership. As the Kroo Reservation Ordinance (cap.

115)  was  something  new  to  me,  I  announced  that  I would adjourn                                                                             5

to consider the point, whereupon Mr. Edmondson said that in the circumstances   he  preferred  to  go  on  with  his  defence.                                                                 I  have  to confess that I myself construed this as meaning that he withdrew his submission, but Mr. Edmondson in his final  address  said  that  all  he intended   to  mean  was  that  he  reserved   the   point,  as  he   was  of                                                              10

course perfectly entitled to do, and he repeated the submission. In fairness to the defendant, I have decided to give her counsel  the  benefit of the doubt.

I have come to the conclusion, however, that the point is of

no substance. While it is literally correct of course that the plaintiff 15

is not the owner of the  land  in  question,  the  real  issue  here  in  my view  is  whether  he  had   a  right,  no  matter   how  he . was  described  in the statement of claim, to bring  this  particular  action,  and  on  the facts of the case I answer that question in the affirmative. Whether

his permit (Exhibit A) was correctly or incorrectly granted by the 20

Kroo Tribal Authority is for the moment beside the point. It  is sufficient to say that it gave him a right to  immediate  possession  of the land, and he commenced to exercise that right by  fixing  some sticks in the land (it is not in dispute, or at any rate it was not

challenged in cross:-examination, that the defendant removed these 25

sticks), and to suggest that because the plaintiff has been mistakenly described in the statement of claim as the owner of  the land, there-  fore his case must ipso facto fail, is to my mind an argument quite devoid of substance. It would have been different of course if an

action of this kind could only have been brought by the absolute 30

owners of the land. But in trespass to land the law is quite different. The person who normally and properly has the right to sue is the  person who was or is deemed to have  been in possession  at  the time of the trespass; and if the permit (Exhibit A) was validly granted

by the Kroo Tribal Authority (and I will deal with this point 35

presently) it is clear that the plaintiff was entitled  to  possession, indeed by virtue of his having affixed his sticks had taken possession, and, having been  deprived  of  that  possession,  he  is  entitled  to bring his action. As I have indicated, the fact that he was wrongly

described   in  the   statement   of   claim   as  owner  is  a  matter of  no                                                                            40










Now  on  what  is  the  plaintiffs  claim  to  the  land  based? Under

r.4 of Schedule B to the Kroo Reservation Ordinance (cap. 115) the Kroo Tribal Authority can grant permits to  members  of  the  Kroo tribe to build  houses on vacant plots of  land within  the Kroo Reserva-

5    tion  area.   It  is not  in dispute  that  the land  in  question  in this  case  is in the Kroo Reservation. The plaintiff made his application, presumably  verbally,  according  to  the  custom,  and  was  granted  his permit (Exhibit A). One is glad to note that there has been no suggestion  of  mala  fides on  the  part  of  the  tribal  authority.   I also

10  note, not without  regret, that  all its members  are apparently  illiterate. On Exhibit A, for example, all including the headman himself made their marks. The only signature is that of the tribal secretary who  signed in his official capacity and  as  witness to  the  marks.  It  does not  need  much  imagination  to see how  a  tribal  secretary  could very

15 easily  abuse  his  position,  and  I  am  particularly   glad  therefore  to  note that here again  there  is  no  suggestion  of  mala  fides  on  the part of Mr. Russel, the young tribal secretary.

[The learned judge reviewed the evidence on both sides as to whether the disputed land was vacant at the time the perniit was

20 granted. He then continued : ]

And now to answer the question as to whether the Kroo Tribal Authority acted properly under its statutory powers in granting the permit, it is clear I think beyond question that for many years. before the  permit  was  granted  there  had  been  no house  on  the land  in the

25 ordinary sense of the word ''house."  When  the  permit  was  granted,  there was at the most some sort of stonework showing that a building  of  some  kind   had  once  been   there.   No  claim   has  been  made   in respect of this stonework. It obviously could not have been very much  because  the  Public Works  Department  building inspector,  one

30     Alexander  Davies,  an  independent   witness,  apparently  did  not  see it. In March 1948, when the plaintiff made his  application  to  the Public Works Department, Davies went out to inspect the  land  and saw neither building nor vegetation of any  kind.  The land,  he said, was  quite  vacant.    As  I  have  already  rejected  the  defendant's story

35 of cassava planting-I make  no  finding  as  to  whether  this  in  itself would have entitled her to retain the use of the land as against  the  trioal authority-I have no hesitation  in  finding  that  when  they granted the permit (Exhibit A) to the plaintiff the Kroo  Tribal Authority  acted  perfectly  correctly  and  within  the  powers conferred

40 upon them by the Ordinance.

That really is the end of the case. The defendant herself has








KABGBAE  v.   KOFA,  1950-56  ALR  S.L. 48                                                                             s.c.

never received any permit from  the  tribal  authority  to  build  on the disputed land, and as regards the Public Warks Department pennit to build it is clear from the evidence of Mr. Davies, the building inspector, that the plaintiff received his before the defendant

applied for hers. The plai tiff received his on March 16th, 1948. 5

On the following day the defendant applied for hers, but her applica- tion  was  turned  down  because  of  some  irregularity  in  her  plans.  It was however subsequently  granted  on  February  15th,  1949, despite the previous issue of the permit to the plaintiff. The Public

Works Department, incredible to relate, apparently keeps no check 10

on the building permits which it issues. Thus it is clear from the defendant's own evidence that, after being  told  that  the  tribal authority had granted its permit (Exhibit A) to the plaintiff, she deliberately, if in genuine ignorance of the law under which that

permit had been granted, defied the authority and went ahead with 15

her own plans. Her story of having  amassed  building  materials  during the war years, when she said they were hard to get, is made nonsense of by the evidence of the  building  inspector  to  which  I have already referred. He inspected the site when both the plaintiff

and the defendant applied for their permits. On both occasions the 20

land was quite vacant, he said.

The defendant, I am bound to hold, in the light of the above findings, is quite clearly a trespasser, in that  with full knowledge  of the grant of the permit to the plaintiff she went on to the land

covered by this permit, uprooted the plaintiff's sticks, and commenced 25

to build. The moment he  was  granted  this  permit,  the  plaintiff  in my view was put into constructive possession of the  land in dispute and still remains so. He  is  therefore,  I  hold,  entitled  to  both damages and the injunction for which he asks.

Now on the question of damages, it is well-established law that, 30

in trespass, once the trespass to land  is  proved  the  plaintiff  is  entitled to recover damages even though he has not  suffered  any actual loss. If the trespass is accompanied by aggravating circum­ stances he is entitled to recover exemplary damages. In any event

he is entitled to recover such an amount as will recompense him 35

for any actual damage  or  loss  the  trespass  may  have  caused  him. In this case I can see no evidence of actual  loss  by  the  plaintiff except the somewhat scanty, if unchallenged, evidence  about the loss of his sticks, which he said the defendant had uprooted. He valued

these, he said, at 3/-, but he apparently made no attempt to get 40

them back as he said he did not want any trouble.








In  my  view  there  were  no  aggravating  circumstances.   Indeed I  am  not  entirely  without  sympathy  for  the  defendant.    The  more I think over the evidence  in  this  case  the  more  I  am  disturbed  at the  position  in  the  Kroo  Reservation.    The  land  there  is  under the

·· 5 "charge and management" of the tribal authority, an almost completely illiterate body, the sole repository of  any  literacy  being  a  young tribal secretary. As far as I can see it is clear that for all practical purposes  he  runs  the  tribal  authority.  Its  members,  as  far  as  I have  seen  them,  and  I  say  this  without  any  disrespect,  are  not

10 impressive and one  gathers  that  the  members  of  the  tribe  are  like­ wise not impressed by them.  One  member  of  the  tribal  authority, Mr. John Pearce, said this: "If anybody objects to the Kroo Tribal Authority's ruling, we fight in the streets. Sometimes the  authority gives way."

15              However my sympathy with the  defendant  must not be  allowed to deprive the plaintiff of his lawful rights.  In  the circumstances  of this case I think that justice would be met as far as damages are concerned by  an  award  of  nominal  damages  only,  and  accordingly I   award   the   plaintiff   40/-.    He  is,  as  I   have  already   indicated,

20   entitled  to  his  injunction,  and  I  so  order.   In  the  exercise  however of my inherent jurisdiction in these matters, I  grant  a  stay  of execution of this injunction  for  two  months  (or such  earlier  period as may suffice on notice by the defendant to the tribal authority) to enable  the  defendant  to  take  down  and  remove  the  building which

25 she has erected. The plaintiff must have the costs of this action.

Judgment for the plaintiff.