A five-member panel of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), seated in Trinidad and Tobago, today accepted to hear the first Belize case, filed by ex-ministers of Government Florencio Marin, Sr., and Joe Coye, after the Barrow administration took them to court for nearly a million dollars in damages as part of a misfeasance lawsuit.
Specifically, the Government initiated suit against Marin and Coye for $924,056.60, which the Attorney General has claimed government had lost in the sale of lands to Cheop Enterprises for 56 parcels of land in Belize City, as well as exemplary damages.
The Government had, however, lost the case on a preliminary point in the Supreme Court, when it was heard before the former Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh. The judge raised a technical question of whether the government was pursuing the right kind of claim against the now opposition members.
Conteh had said, in the end, that the Attorney General can’t file a misfeasance case in the Supreme Court but could have pursued the route of filing a malfeasance case for criminal sanctions in the Magistrate’s Court.
The Court of Appeals overturned Conteh’s ruling and directed the Supreme Court hearing filed by the government.
The defendants, Marin and Coye, then sought a further appeal, this time at the Caribbean Court of Justice, which has now replaced the Privy Council in the UK as Belize’s final appellate court.
This morning, the CCJ panel held a hearing via teleconference with the attorneys for the parties, Dr. Elson Kaseke and Magali Marin-Young for the ex-ministers, and Lois Young, SC, for the Attorney General of Belize, representing the state.
The panel consisted of Justice Michael de la Bastide TC, Justice Jacob Wit, Justice Desiree Bernard, Justice Adrian Saunders, and Justice Rolston Nelson.
“I think this is a matter of great public importance — that is whether, the members of a government which has been replaced by another government are liable to be sued by the Attorney General on behalf of the state for loss which they have allegedly caused the state by their misconduct — or their misfeasance to use the technical word — while they were in office,” said de la Bastide. “This is a matter that I am sure is not only of great importance (I would have thought) to the people of Belize, but indeed to the people of this region.”
He noted that a CCJ ruling “...would be describing what the law is finally for at least some of the countries in CARICOM,” and particularly for Barbados and Guyana which are the only other two nations to have accepted the CCJ’s full appellate jurisdiction.
The CCJ president said that this preliminary issue of whether the Attorney General can (under the circumstances) sue to recover the funds or not, should be disposed of as quickly as possible, so that the proceedings as a whole will also be disposed of. “If it is decided in favor of appellants, then it will shorten proceedings,” he added.
The case, AL 4 of 2010, is scheduled for hearing at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, November 29, 2010, and the Belize attorneys have been asked to appear in person at the CCJ in Trinidad.
“All parties and indeed the whole of Belize will benefit from having a final and authoritative ruling on the issue which this case raises,” said president de la Bastide.