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Legal battle over BTL and BEL goes to the Caribbean Court of Justice

The protracted legal battle over the nationalization of two major utility companies, the Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) and the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), is set to enter a new round inside the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in December.

Today, the CCJ granted permission to the parties in the dispute to file their appeals of the Court of Appeal decision handed down in May 2014, when the court announced its ruling in favor of the Government’s nationalization of BTL, but ruled the nationalization to be valid only as of July 4, 2011—and not since 2009, as the Government had contended.

The court had also dismissed the appeal of Fortis Inc., challenging the Government’s nationalization of BEL that same year.

After a hearing held at 9:00 local time today, Wednesday, the CCJ issued an order setting out the timetable consisting of deadlines by which the parties need to file their submissions and replies between September and November, when case management hearings are due to be held. The order also proposes alternative dates for the substantive hearing spanning December 11 to 17, 2014.

In today’s CCJ session, the Government of Belize was represented by Crown Counsel Nigel Hawke, while British Caribbean Bank and Fortis Inc. were represented by Eamon Courtenay, SC.

Godfrey Smith, SC, who represents Dean Boyce and the trustees of BTL Employees Trust, told the media today that his clients continue to maintain that the nationalization of the phone company was unconstitutional. They are challenging the nationalization on several fronts.

Meanwhile, the CCJ today did not accede to the Government’s request for the court to strike out the application for leave to appeal the Court of Appeal ruling.
Lead counsel for the Government, Denys Barrow, SC, told Amandala that the Government will challenge the portion of the Court of Appeal decision, which declared the nationalization effective only to 2011. Barrow said that the Government maintains that the nationalization was effective since 2009.

Barrow also stated that the fact that the court has set December for hearing the case indicates how seriously the CCJ regards this issue, which speaks to the fundamental constitutional importance of the legal issues at hand.

He recalled that the CCJ had ordered a stay in January 2012 of the company’s appeal in relation to the 2009 acquisition, and the CCJ did not expect that it would have taken so long for this new challenge to reach them.

By the time the hearing comes about, it will be almost three years since the matter had first been raised at the CCJ.

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