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Another CCJ judgment in Favor of Belize Print E-mail
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Thursday, 30 January 2014 00:00

The Caribbean Court of Justice has once again ruled in favor of the Government of Belize in a matter which essentially entangled GOB and the Ashcroft Alliance.

The matter concerns an appeal to the CCJ as to the constitutionality of two amendments, one in April of 2010 and another in October 2010 to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act. The first amendment was “to strengthen the provisions relating to contempt of court...” the other amended the Principal Act as well as the First Amendment. This amendment sought to  “clarify the law as to the ingredients of the offence of criminal contempt of court; to make provision for mitigation of penalties in the case of natural persons in certain extenuating circumstances; to specify the rules Governing Trial on Criminal Information and Complaint;..” 

The original case was brought to the court of appeals in Belize by the Ashcroft Alliance, at the time their primary argument was that the legislation was specifically designed to target them and that it was unconstitutional. At the end of that trial the court ruled partially in favor of them. That ruling was handed down by Justice Muria on December 22nd, 2010. Immediately after that ruling, the Government appealed at the CCJ and the ruling was handed down on January 24th by Honourable Justices Nelson, Saunders and Hayton, Delivered by The Honourable Mr. Justice Adrian Saunders and Judgment of The Honourable Justices Wit and Anderson.

In arriving at their judgment the judges noted that “it is possible and feasible to save a law that may contain one or more inconsistent provisions, a scalpel, rather than a machete, is to be used by the court to sever that which is inconsistent.” And indeed the court used a scalpel. They concluded that “In our view therefore, the legislation is constitutionally valid save for i) the mandatory minimum penalty regime contained in sub-section 3; ii) the  proviso to section 3 and also sub-section 3(a), and iii) sub-section 5 in its entirety. It follows that the Court should sever these provisions from section 106(A).”

In essence there is now not a minimum fine for persons found guilty under the act when it was originally $50,000 yet the maximum of up to $250,000 or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years. Originally the minimum term of imprisonment was no less than 5 years. As it relates to legal person or entity (companies) the minimum fine of $100,000 was done away with but the fine may extend to $500,000 and if the offence continues there be an additional fine which may extend to $300,000 for each day the offence continues.

For clarity the judges actually showed how the act is to now read as follows:

(3) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) above shall be punished on
      conviction –
(i) in the case of a natural person, with a fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand dollars but which may extend to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, or with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years but which may extend to ten years, or with both such fine and term of imprisonment, and, in the case of a continuing offence, with an additional fine which may extend to of one hundred thousand dollars for each day the offence continues;
(ii) in the case of a legal person or other entity (whether corporate or unincorporated), with a fine which shall not be less than one hundred thousand dollars but which may extend to five hundred thousand dollars, and in the case of a continuing offence, with an additional fine which may extend to of three hundred thousand dollars for each day the offence continues.

Provided that where a natural person who is convicted of an offence under this section shows that the extenuating circumstances (as described in subsection 3a below) exist in his case, a court may, in lieu of imposing the penalties specified above, impose a fine of not less than five thousand dollars and not more than ten thousand dollars, and in default of payment of such fine, a term of imprisonment of not less than one year and not more than two years.

(3a)    For the purpose of the Proviso to paragraph (i) of subsection (3) above, the expression “extenuating circumstances: means where –
(a) the convicted person has previously been a law abiding person and has no criminal record; and
(b) the offence was committed through sheer ignorance of the consequences of his conduct; and
(c) the imposition of full penalties prescribed in subsection (3) above would cause grave hardship to him and his family.”

The ruling then is one that serves the government as the Act had 16 subsections of which one was removed and another amended.
The case was between the Attorney General of Belize as the Appellant and Respondents Philip Zuniga, Dean Boyce, Keith Arnold, Michael Ashcroft, Jose Alpuche, Philip Osborne,Ediberto Tesecum and Interested Parties being BCB Holdings Limited, The Belize Bank, Philip Hohnson, Ken Robinson, Thanet Financial Services Limited, The Swan at Westgate Ltd., Jacdaw Investments Limited, Shaun Breeze, David Hammond, John Lmbie and Paul Biffen. Judges hearing the case were Justices Mr Justice Nelson, Mr Justice Saunders, Mr Justice Wit, Mr Justice Hayton and Mr Justice Anderson.