Court stays injunction against Government in OCEANA case

Today Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin in the Supreme Court stayed an injunction against government. The injunction was granted by Justice Oswell Legall in April restraining the Minister of Natural Resources from acting on the production sharing agreements signed by six companies exploring for petroleum offshore Belize.  Justice Legall had declared those PSA’s as unlawful, null and void because no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted before they were granted in 2004 and 2007. But today, Justice Kenneth Benjamin said that injunction should be stayed pending the outcome of an appeal of the decision to the Court of Appeal. He felt that the applicants, represented by Senior Counsel Denys Barrow, had met the standard for granting such a stay: 1) that the appeal had a reasonable prospect of success in the higher court and 2) that the applicant would suffer irremediable harm as a result of the judgment being enforced. It essentially confirms that those two remaining companies, Providence Energy and Princess/Treaty Petroleum can continue their activities with the supervision of the Government, which Barrow had claimed the Government could not do as a result of the injunction and which risked harm to the country. It is a dent in the judgment of Justice Legall which had been widely hailed as a victory for environmental interests over commercial interests. PLUS News got all sides of the story, starting with the winners. Denys Barrow speaks about the importance of the case beyond Belize’s borders.

Denys Barrow – Senior Counsel:
vlcsnap-2013-06-21-20h21m05s241The implications for them are partially what they will hope or what they hope will be achieved if we win on appeal, which is they need – I don’t know if you saw on the internet the responses immediately following the court’s Justice Legall’s decision. There was in the oil industry internationally, a major eruption, a major concern. Oil exploration is shut down in Belize. You may be aware of the letter from one of the oil companies which said that a sixty million dollar fund that they were going to have raised by their bankers was shut down because of the impact of the judgment. So that judgment creates the impression that you cannot do business as an oil explorer in Belize.

Mr Barrow goes on to preview the Government’s appeal and the situation on the ground.

Denys Barrow – Senior Counsel:
Because the Government would expose itself to the accusations which have been made and which continue to be made and which I am sure will continue to be made that it is disobeying the order of the Supreme Court. So people who do not understand the order, who do not understand the legal position will say ‘But lawd man the judge seh di thing and void, so how they could mek it continue?” So it is to remove that from off the table and to remove that from the public consciousness that the Government is using duly bound to appeal and to have the law properly declared by the Court of Appeal.

Sir how does this change things on the ground right now, The decision that the Chief Justice issued today? What are the changes going forward?

Denys Barrow – Senior Counsel:
It means that the Department can now properly and freely, openly and in accordance with the PSA as well as in accordance with the general law, regulate what is taking place. So they can ensure that what takes place is properly taking place and they can ensure that what Government wants and what the nation of Belize wants will take place without any interruption, without any uncertainty, without any doubt as to what can be done.

Audrey Matura Shepherd says it’s not over yet.

Audrey Matura Shepherd – VP OCEANA:
vlcsnap-2013-06-21-20h20m44s32My view has always been that that is not so, because you have to fall back on the other part of the ruling and that other part of the ruling is that the judge has declared those contract – unlawful, null and void. If you notice in this judgment, the Chief Justice did not pronounce on whether or not those contracts remain unlawful, null and void – that will be dealt with at the Court of Appeal. This is an interlocutory matter, before we go to the Court of Appeal. I still maintain the position, because you cannot look at the judgment only by one little piece. You let the piece on the fact that the injunction immediately binds the hands of the Government, when it has its hands bounds, cannot tell the oil companies to continue acting on a contract that has already been declared null and void. Nothing in what the Chief Justice said was on that part of the judgment, because he knows that he was not called to rule on that. So I still maintain that position. Of course that being said, listen, we are always a law abiding entity and so if this is the ruling of the court, we will respect that decision.  

OCEANA will likely appeal the stay of injunction before the Government’s appeal is heard proper in the Court of Appeal.

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