Oceana in Shallow Waters Print E-mail
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Thursday, 23 August 2012 00:00

Crown Counsel Herbert PantonWednesday 22 August 2012

Shortly after eleven this morning, arguments were concluded in the court room of Justice Oswel Legall on an application by the Attorney General, to strike out the claim of Oceana in Belize, which is seeking to declare six Production sharing Agreements (PSA), granted to various oil exploration companies in offshore areas, null and void.  Back in December of last year, Oceana brought a claim against the Minister of Natural Resources and the Attorney General seeking declarations that the PSAs of Island Oil Belize Ltd., Miles Tropical Energy Ltd., PetroBelize Company Ltd., Princess Petroleum Ltd., Providence Energy Belize Ltd., and Sol Oil Belize Ltd., were null and void in that they were awarded without any Environmental Impact Assessment, there was no public competitive bidding, the companies were unqualified, the PSAs were contrary to the Fisheries Act, the National Park Systems Act, and consequently they are unlawful and should not be renewed.

In June of this year, Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action COLA, and the Belize Coalition to save our Natural Heritage were joined as co-claimants.  Also in June, the Attorney General represented by Deputy Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, and Crown Counsel Herbert Panton applied to the Court to have the matter struck out on the basis that the Claim was filed long after the one year period laid down in the law, and so the matter was statute barred.  The Limitation Act requires that an action against a public body or person must be filed within one year from the date the cause of action arose.

Crown Counsel Herbert Panton lead arguments in court this morning to show that the time for bringing an action has already passed and as a consequence the entire matter should be struck out.  Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith, Attorney for Oceana argued that the claim is one for judicial review, and as such is not subject to the one year Limitation Act.  Senior Counsel Smith relied heavily on the case of Froylan Gilharry v. Attorney General, a case only recently handed down by the Court of Appeals.  In reliance on this case, Smith submitted to the Court that the Limitation Act should not apply to judicial review proceedings.

Crown Counsel Panton agreed with Smith in that the Froylan Gilharry case was about judicial review and so was not subject to the one year limitation.  However, the Oceana claim could not be one of judicial review because if it were, it would have had to have been brought within three months from the signing of the PSAs.  That could not have happened because the PSAs were signed in 2007, and Oceana was not incorporated as yet having been incorporated two years later in 2009.  Before a claim can be commenced for judicial review, the Claimant must first seek permission.  There was no permission sought by Oceana, and in any event the three-month period has long since lapsed. The Claim being brought some four years after the PSAs were signed.

Justice Legall has reserved judgement for Friday, August 24th at 9:00 am.