BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 30, 2018– The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) handed down a judgment in an appeal brought by 54 Belizeans who sued the Government of Belize for 4 million dollars they claim they lost when the Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICO) went belly-up. The Belizean litigants contended that the government allowed CLICO to continue carrying on its business of life insurance, although it was not in full compliance with the Insurance Act.
The lawsuit was against Alma Gomez, the Supervisor of Insurance; the Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, as Minister of Finance; and the Attorney General of Belize. Having lost at the Supreme Court in 2014, the litigants appealed their case to the Belize Court of Appeal, where they had reportedly secured a partial victory. Eventually the case was appealed at the CCJ and was argued via teleconference in January.
CLICO, under the law, was required to establish statutory funds that were equal to its liabilities for all of its Belizean customers, in the event that the company went out of business. The litigants were of the view that the government should be held accountable to them for their losses, because the government allowed the company to continue operating.
After deliberating the case for 8 weeks, however, the CCJ ruled this afternoon to dismiss the appeal, and in so doing it took the Government of Belize off the claimants’ 4-million-dollar hook.
Following the decision which came via a teleconference hearing between the court’s headquarters in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and the Supreme Court of Belize, Solicitor General Nigel Hawke explained the government’s victory.
Hawke told the media, “The matter today concerned a question of whether there had been appeal from the Court of Appeal decision, considering whether the Supervisor of Insurance acted in bad faith and on a second new limb, if she didn’t, they were arguing that the liability should have extended to the state. The court dismissed their appeal finding that section 4.3 of the Act, provided for immunity of the supervisor of insurance. They did not find that she acted in bad faith. I think all her actions were reasonable, given the flexibility of the Act overall, in terms of statutory duties, and it also ruled that the immunity extended to the state, even if they had wanted to argue that, but they rejected that argument because it came very late in the day. They rejected that argument because section 4, also of the Crown Proceedings Act, provided an immunity to the state in any event.”
The Solicitor General was asked to respond to those people who lost their insurance because of this. These people got left out in the cold when the company closed down. Money they invested, money they hoped would be their nest egg for later on in life, was lost.
Solicitor General Hawke replied, “We sympathize with them, but I think the evidence will show that the Supervisor of Insurance did her utmost best to protect the statutory fund, as you see when you see a copy of the judgment. I think the court mentioned, that really and truly, when you look at all the circumstances, especially because of the collapse of the company in 2009 or 2008, that that contributed also to the loss that they suffered, and it really couldn’t be attributed to the Supervisor of Insurance.”
The case for the 54 Belizean litigants was argued by Andrew Marshalleck, S.C., from the law firm of Barrow and Company, while the government’s case was defended by Solicitor General Hawke.