It might appear that national matters have come to a standstill as all eyes and ears focused this week on Caleb Orozco versus the Attorney-General. But the wheels of state are still turning, and so are the wheels of those with grievances against the state. A very significant appeal case is currently before the Caribbean Court of Justice, in the matter of a forty-three million dollar award granted by the London Court of International Arbitration to the Belize Bank and BCB Holdings. Government’s back is against the wall, as the CCJ remains the court of final appeal. The Attorney for the Belize Bank and BCB Holdings, Eamon Courtenay, today gave us the background of the case that was heard last week at the CCJ and the ramifications if the judgment goes against the government.
Eamon Courtenay, Attorney
“Mr. Justice Muria had made a decision that an award, an arbitral award, could be enforced against the government and the court of appeal overturned that decision. But it overturned it on a very technical basis saying part four of the arbitration act was unconstitutional. And so we went to the CCJ to ask the CCJ to entertain arguments saying that in fact part four of the arbitration act is valid and that we should be allowed to enforce the award against the government of Belize. The basis on which we made that argument is very simple. There is no law that precludes the national assembly from recognizing awards made outside of Belize. And the Court of Appeal said that because the law was passed before Belize became an independent country and because England had not ratified the New York convention, it means that our national assembly could not pass that law. I don’t feel that there is any merit in that argument and in fact, when we were making submissions in the CCJ, the judges said move on from that point and get to the substance. The substance is very simple. The government is saying that the agreement that give rise to this which was a settlement deal in which the parties settled another arbitration; they are saying that it is illegal. However, the government didn’t go to the arbitration and argued that settlement deed is illegal. They are now asking the final court to make a declaration that that agreement is invalid. The way the law works is you go to arbitration and raise your arguments as to why you believe the agreement is not valid. If you don’t do that, it amounts to a virtual waiver and so the submissions we were making to the CCJ is that the government chose not to participate; the CCJ is not the court to raise those arguments. If the CCJ rules in our favor, we then come back to Belize and we get a certificate from the registrar saying exactly how much money the government owes and then we ask the government to pay. If the government does not pay, then we start enforcement proceedings against the government. Most of cases like this, at that point, the government accepts that we have gone to court, we have lost and therefore we have to pay. And one would assume that the government will adopt a similar posture.”
Government was represented at the Caribbean Court of Justice by attorney Michael Young.