The dispute between the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) and Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) and its American partner, American Sugar Refining Incorporated (ASR), with the Government of Belize as represented by Minister responsible for Agriculture Gaspar Vega and the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) a key party, officially entered the legal realm on Friday morning, with the hearing for an application for leave to file judicial review, in respect of a writ of mandamus urging the SICB to consult its industry partners on a date to start the 2014-15 sugar cane season.
No sooner had the parties sat before Justice Shona Griffith, than the judge stunned the courtroom by announcing that she was inclined to grant the application and begin issuing directions for the progression of the case.
However, the victory for claimant and senior cane farmer Lucilo Teck would not come that easily or that quickly. The SICB’s attorney, Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams, immediately rose on a point of objection which he explained for reporters afterward.
“Yes, that is our view, and the judge decided that she would nevertheless grant the permission to bring what we consider to be an irretrievably flawed fixed date claim, and the judge can do that. That’s what she did.
Up to this morning they have been filing papers, so we are yet to wrap around, at least, our heads with regard to the claim. The substantive claim now is to be brought. It wasn’t the substantive claim that was being heard. It is now to be filed with the permission.”
Rodwell Williams insisted on his position under close questioning from Justice Griffith as to the spirit of the Civil Procedure Rules which govern these public law cases. He was joined by BSI’s attorney Senior Counsel Michael Young.
“Well it’s not that the papers were inappropriately filed. Our position is that the wrong papers were filed, and I think that there was not much of a disagreement on their part, and the court recognized that the papers in the way that they were prepared and filed were not correct.
Our position was that you need to formulate your case properly and file it before the court can even have jurisdiction to entertain what you are seeking to have.
The court looked `at the intent and substance of the documents that were filed, and took the position that indeed there was an application before the court for permission to file judicial review, because it’s a two stage process. You first apply for permission or relief to file Judicial Review.”
However they were not successful.
Justice Griffith said she was satisfied that while not in the exact form prescribed in law, the application was substantively grounded and could proceed as presented. Lucilo Teck’s attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd, joined by Anthony Sylvestre, explained that the court took into account the urgency and spirit of the application which was enough to carry the day.
“In law there are discretions that the courts are given. In the old days under strict common law process there were only one way that you can do things, and one error or anything like that would therefore mean that you can’t move ahead.
But the law change over centuries. It has evolved and so a lot of discretion is given to a judge under the inherent jurisdiction.
The 2005 Civil Procedure Rule was intended to ease any blow, so that claimants like my claimant, who are people suffering hardship, my claimant is a single farmer who has a lot to lose, is not then rejected by the court by a technicality, and you notice we were citing different rules, because there are provisions to cushion any technical mishap. That’s what happened. She applied her powers under the Civil Procedure Rules.”
The claimants must serve notice of the substantive claim by January 26, although Attorney Matura-Shepherd indicated it would be in by Friday of next week, because of the urgent nature of the case.
All evidence must be in by February 17 in advance of a February 23 hearing date at 10:00 a.m.
However, the farmers are not inclined to wait that long to settle the case, according to Chairman of the BSCFA’s Committee of Management Ezequiel Cansino.
“We heard everything, and we are really concerned. That’s why we are trying to consult the attorneys., what legal advice they can give us, because I don’t believe that the cane farmers will be able to wait that time, at least to hear this case.
We have been saying that we already having losses on this delay , and if we will wait six weeks more, I think definitely that cane farmers will actually disappear from the list of the cane farmers.”