Attorneys for Caribbean Investment Holdings and the Courtenay/Coye law firm who are challenging the legality of Government’s extra firewalling of foreign assets through the Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities) Act and the Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act, and the Solicitor General Nigel Hawke who appeared in defense of GOB wrapped up their arguments today on the claim before the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin heard the finals words from both sides then announced that he will be announcing his ruling at a future date.
GOB’s firewall acts, as they have been described, came about in March when Prime Minister Barrow informed the members of the House of Representatives that he has gotten information that the Aschroft Alliance intends to recover payments as ordered by the Court against the Government. The PM said he believed that Ashcroft’s attorneys were preparing to seek new Court orders to seize assets held outside of Belizean. In response, he got the unanimous support of both sides of the House of Representatives to introduce a law that not only states for clarity the sovereignty of the country’s foreign assets, but also that anyone involved in an attempt to seize them, commits a criminal act punishable in Belize. The move attracted condemnation from Caribbean Investments Holdings and the Belizean attorneys who represent them. Today Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay discussed some of the arguments in Court.
Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for CIHL
“We have submitted to the court over the past two days that the legislation is targeted at the Ashcroft related entities and the purpose of it is to prevent them from pursuing their legitimate rights in the United States of America and the Chief Justice was shown arguments yesterday and today on that the government states a different view and the Chief Justice has now preserved his decision, we expect a decision sometime…”
In Court, Solicitor General Hawke argued that the scope of the law did not apply to attorneys and that the legal challenge was an attempt to infringe on the separation of powers which puts the legislature beyond reach or question by the Courts. Courtenay said while that was the SolGen’s view, the letter of the law says something else.
Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for CIHL
“The law specifically says that you act as an adviser to a person who attempts to do the things defined in the legislation if you commit a criminal offence , the government has rather strangely written a letter saying that they don’t interpret adviser to mean a law firm or to be attorneys well a lot of my work and a lot of the work of attorneys is to advise people so that is a bazaar position to take by the government if that is their position, we have no confidence in that the attorney says that he is not aware of any attempt to go after any attorney , that maybe the position today might not be the position tomorrow so we need the court to terminate what the legislation says, you’ve heard what the Chief Justice decision at the very end seek and undertaking that the government will not act to prosecute or to take any step pursuant to the legislation until he gives his judgement so that undertaking given to the court gives us some comfort in the meantime, in so far Caribbean Investment Holding is concern the argument is essentially less, where you have a judgment or arbitral award in their favor the courts have said that that constitutes property in other word there is an order from court that somebody is going to pay you money and that is property in itself and what we are saying is that if you pass a law that when it is applied renders that judgment that you have that is of no effect you can’t do anything with it then that amounts to arbitrary deprivation of property you might as well say around the judgement because you can’t enforce it, so we say there is a violation to the right to property by arbitrary deprivation when the legislation is implemented, we say secondly that a party who is in Belize has a right to due process of law, to pursue his issues in the courts of this jurisdiction and the courts of other jurisdiction. Mr. Hawk argued very forcefully that we are on a collision course, he is saying that the CCJ has said that the arbitration award cannot be enforced, he is saying the parliament of Belize has said that where a court in Belize has said that an arbitral award on a judgement is invalid, unlawful or void that is a criminal offence to attempt to enforce it and he is saying that one’s a parliament has said that it is not open to the court to review the policy of whether or not it is good for Belize or not good for Belize because of the separation of powers that is the legislation who takes that decision and the court must respect it and the court must second guess it and we say that that is too simplistic approach and we refer to the CCJ decision on the point and in fact your heard the Chief Justice saying but it is not exactly what the CCJ said because the CCJ said there are certain instances where you can’t look at the reason why legislation was passed and one example is where somebody is saying the legislation contravenes my fundamental right, my human right this is what the parties are saying so we are saying this is a matter where the court can look to the reason why the legislation was passed without contravening the separation of powers.”
No date has been given for the announcement of the CJ’s ruling.