CJ withholds judgment in Oceana vs. GOB case

Kenneth BenjaminChief Justice Kenneth Benjamin has reserved judgment in the case of Oceana and others vs the Government of Belize until June 20.

The CJ decided to delay the judgment after the case’s conclusion on Tuesday where attorneys for Oceana and the Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage, Godfrey Smith and Antoinette Moore responded to submissions made last Wednesday by attorney for GOB, Denys Barrow.

Smith argued that since Oceana was the winner in the previous case where Justice Legal granted the injunction, that the NGO was not to be deprived of the fruits of it’s victory without a good reason.  Smith also presented that GOB fell short of having an adequate reason for the court to grant the stay of execution even before an appeal is heard, because the government has no concrete evidence to show that the companies have found oil and therefore allowing the injunction can do no harm.

Moore asserted that while offshore drilling in protected areas is of concern to the Coalition, onshore is also on their priority list. She explained that the Payne Creek National Park is covered almost in it’s entirety by Princess Petroleum Limited’s oil concession area, and highlighted that there are serious environmental concerns in that regard.

Barrow in his rebuttal, reiterated that the government did in fact have credible grounds to ask for the stay of execution, saying that it was in the national interest that the Minister of Petroleum and her agents continue monitoring the oil companies, who are drilling despite Justice Legal’s declaration that the contracts were unlawful null and void.

The case began on May 28, but was adjourned so that the CJ could familiarize himself with the documents presented by the litigants. The court would later uphold GOB’s submission that the evidence of expert witness for Oceana, Susan Harvey, was irrelevant to the case, effectively removing the witness from testifying in the trial.

According to Barrow, if the GOB is granted the stay of execution on the injunction the Ministry and the oil companies will return to business as usual. However if the injunction is upheld, new proceedings will have to be brought to get the desired oil companies to cease operations.

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