- Press Release, Oceana Belize, Friday, August 24, 2012- In the Belize Supreme Court today, Justice Legall struck down the Government of Belize’s (G.O.B.) application to strike out the claim brought by Oceana, the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage and the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) which challenges the legality of the Production Sharing Agreements between the Government of Belize and six offshore oil exploration companies.
The learnt Justice agreed that the Court of Appeal’s July 2012 decision in the case ‘Gilharry’s Bus Line v. Transport Board and Others, which was introduced by the Claimant’s Senior Counsel, Godfrey Smith indeed bore precedence in the trio’s case against the government, reiterating that the Public Authorities Protection Act is confined to private law matters and, as such, there is no limitation period for parties seeking action against the Government in matters of public law.
The Supreme court equally did not agree to the argument brought by Crown Counsel, Herbert Panton that Oceana et’al’s failure to seek permission for judicial review was detrimental to their request asking for certiori (quashing an act) as a possible relief should their case be successful. Justice Legall, citing a 2007 ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in the case Watson v. Hernandez stated that Courts exist to deliver Justice and quoted from the noted CCJ case that, “Justice is not served by depriving the parties of the ability to have their cases decided on the merits because of a purely technical procedural breach.”
Commenting on the significance of this ruling Oceana in Belize’s Vice President, Audrey Matura Shepherd stated, “We are pleased with the decision and await to have the evidence in this case be placed before the court and a final ruling being made. Justice is served when citizens are not barred from accessing the courts to question the decisions of governments because good governance is about making decisions in the best interest of the citizenry and in this situation where these contracts go against our own laws, it is the citizen’s duty to let our government officials know that not even they are above the law.”
After the ruling Crown Counsel Panton rose to inform the court that on Monday they intend to file an application asking the court to now strike-out the affidavit evidence of Bob Danenburg, a petroleum expert who is slated to give evidence on behalf of the claimants. The basis for this request is not yet known. The parties return to court September 12, 2012 to determine the status of this application.