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Jan 6, 2016

Rice Wars: Attorney Eamon Courtenay Weighs in on Jack Charles’ Injunction

On Tuesday afternoon, businessman Jack Charles hastily applied for and was granted an injunction by the Supreme Court, restraining the Customs and Excise Department from taking possession of his shipment of rice.  While the application did not include the necessary paperwork, earlier today that document was officially filed.  The grounds for the application includes the fact that the importer had only learnt that the Comptroller of Customs had applied for and received an order from Senior Magistrate Sharon Frazer forfeiting the three containers of rice.  Jack Charles told the Chief Justice that he was never informed of the ex-parte hearing and that he should have been included in the matter.  Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, who represents the Mennonite community as an interested party, is not involved at this stage of litigation.  Nonetheless, he has offered a legal opinion having poured over the written application for injunction.


Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney, Belize Agro-productive Sector Group

“I just had an opportunity to look at the papers that were filed today.  As you know, when counsel and Mr. Charles went to court yesterday they did not file any papers.  They moved urgently and the judge granted the injunction on the undertaking that they would file the papers by midday today which, as I understand it, they have done.  They have said that Mr. Chawla has sworn on an affidavit in which he says that he found out that Customs was moving for an order of forfeiture with respect to the containers and that he was told by people from the Big Creek port that Customs and BAHA were headed there about to take the containers pursuant to the order of forfeiture.  Because of that information, he and his attorney rushed to court to the Chief Justice and asked for an injunction to restrain the Customs from doing anything pursuant to the order of forfeiture.  As I understand the application for the injunction, Mr. Chawla is saying that he was entitled to be heard by the magistrate before she made the order of forfeiture.  As a result of not being given that opportunity, his right has been infringed and therefore he wants the injunction.  That is going to come up, as you know, next week for an inter-parties hearing between Chawla and the government.  As I have said, my initial reaction to it is that it is a very interesting application.  Mr. Chawla swore in his affidavit that the Customs had given him an opportunity to export the containers out of Belize.  Implicitly saying to the court that he has been denied this opportunity to export the containers out of Belize.  It was the twenty-third of December that he was given that opportunity.  All this time has passed and it is for the first time he is now saying that he wants to do that.  I do not represent the Customs.  As you know, I am not involved in this case at this stage, we are following it closely because of our representation of the rice producers, but I would be shocked if Mr. Chawla called up the Customs and say, “I want to export it out as you indicated and I want to get it out of the country,” that anybody would have gone for an order of forfeiture or anybody would stop him.  It seems to me that all of this could have been avoided if Mr. Chawla had simply walked down to the Customs and say, “Okay, Justice Young did not give me leave to go for judicial review therefore I will get the containers out of Belize.”  It seems to me that even before next week Tuesday, Mr. Chawla can go to the Customs and say he wants to take the containers out of Belize and that would be the end of the matter.”

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