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Sep 30, 2010

Draconian legislation passed to prevent international arbitration

eamon courtenay

A battery of lawyers has been flown in by both sides in a challenge to the constitutionality of certain aspects of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act that was amended by the government back in March of this year. It is one in a myriad of legislation that has been passed in the war waged against Lord Michael Ashcroft. The background is that the draconian legislation was passed essentially to prevent parties from pursing international arbitration, especially in relation to disputes with the government. It relates to arbitration awards which the government does not want to honor. The law imposes severe penalties for any breach of those injunctions including minimum sentences as well as daily fines of up to one hundred thousand dollars. The case started on Wednesday morning, senior counsel Eamon Courtenay is representing seven of nine claimants.

Isani Cayetano

“Speaking of Lord Michael Ashcroft and of course this B.T.L. issue that’s in the courts at the moment, can you give us an update on the litigation process that’s ongoing?”

Eamon Courtney, Senior Counsel, Attorney At Law

“Yeah.  What is being challenged right now is the case that was brought by seven individuals against the attorney general.  You will recall that last year, very late last year the Government got an injunction against seven, well nine individuals and I represent seven and what is important in that regard is that the Court of Appeal dissolved that injunction, lifted the injunction against them.  But we are challenging an act that provides for people to be sent to prison for a minimum of five years and to be fined a minimum of fifty thousand dollars if you are found guilty of contempt of court.  The law already provides for contempt of court it is in the statute book but this is a new draconian piece of legislation that has been passed by the government according to them to deal with violations of injunctions.  The truth of the matter is that it was passed to attack Michael Ashcroft and to use it against Michael Ashcroft and so we are challenging the constitutionality of that law.  And as you know both sides have brought in foreign counsel.  Government has brought in Dr. Lloyd Barnett, an eminent Commonwealth Constitutional expert and the clients of ours have brought in Edward Fitzgerald and Peter Goldsmith both from London; again eminent barristers in their own right.  It is important to understand a number of developments in the case.  When we challenged this and said it was unconstitutional the government denied that it was unconstitutional but since then, curiously, they have amended the law.  After they have seen the arguments they have amended the law twice and then further yesterday they came and abandoned the other case that I mentioned about the injunction against those individuals.  They abandoned that case against our client so it is telling you that they realize that that piece of law that they brought was unconstitutional and they are trying now, quietly and surreptitiously to correct it.”

The case will conclude on Friday, but a decision is not expected immediately.

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1 Response for “Draconian legislation passed to prevent international arbitration”

  1. Mellow Belizean says:

    Let me see if I’m understanding this correctly: While crime, and especially murder, is at an all-time high and getting worse; while more rapists are walking the streets; while health care is a joke; while it’s been documented that more Belizeans are suffering in poverty; the focus of the Barrow administration is to pass laws which will prevent people from challenging the government — and even if they win a challenge, not let them get paid. Isn’t there ANYTHING they can do better with their time?

    Does no one else see the madness in this? If they’re going to pass new laws, shouldn’t those laws be geared to improve the lives of Belizeans? These new laws are geared to create a state where citizens have little, if any, rights.

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