BELIZE CITY, Mon. Jan. 4, 2016–Supreme Court Justice Sonia Young, sitting in chambers, denied the application of businessman Jitendra Chawla, better known as “Jack Charles,” for a judicial review into the Government’s decision to block his importation of Guyanese rice.
Jack Charles had applied to the high court seeking permission to file a writ of mandamus, which, if successful, would have the court order the Belize Agriculture and Health Authority (BAHA) to release his three containers of rice that had been held at the Big Creek Port since they arrived almost a month ago.
Charles had imported the rice from Guyana without securing the necessary importation permit from BAHA; as a consequence, Justice Young found that Charles was in violation of the BAHA Act and the court would not countenance his application for judicial review.
Upon exiting the court, attorney Eamon Courtenay, SC, who was attempting to join the case on behalf of the local rice producers, told reporters that they did not have to present any arguments, since the case was speedily turned down by the court.
“The court looked at the application that was filed, and it was not properly done, and so [the judge] said that it does not affect our client, so we weren’t called upon to make any submissions,” Courtenay explained.
“Essentially, what the government argued, quite rightly in their submissions, was that basically the issue that is before the court is an importer who says, ‘I need a license; I applied for it.
I didn’t get it.’ Then they come to court and say, ‘I don’t have the permit, and I want the court to order the importation of a product that requires a license.’ In effect, asking the court to assist him to break the law. The court was very clear that the court is not here to assist anyone in breaking the law; and therefore, a person who does not have the necessary import permit for the importation of rice will not be allowed to use the court as a basis to get some sort of relief,” Courtenay elaborated.
Courtenay said Charles’ action was as described by the CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture in his affidavit, as being done in defiance of the law.
“Mr. Charles obviously believes that by bringing the product here, he will be able to get what he wants—notwithstanding what the law says,” Courtenay said.
Courtenay said that the Customs Department had given Charles the option of sending back the rice, before it is destroyed.
“We do not want rice that has not been subject to a test to be brought into Belize. It constitutes a risk, not only to the agricultural sector but also to food security and safety,” Courtenay said.
Courtenay said that a news report was cited which alleged that rice had been exported from Guyana to Chile and it was later found that the rice was contaminated and it had to be returned.
“We are not advocating that Belize should bear that risk. That rice has not been tested by Belizean authorities; it should leave Belize, the quicker the better,” Courtenay urged.
“Customs is bending over backwards to Charles; they are giving him an opportunity to take it out the country”, Courtenay said.
Jack Charles’ attorney, Leroy Banner, told reporters that the judge has found that his client was in violation of Section 27 of the BAHA Act.
“Without the import permit, you cannot import the goods into Belize,” Banner conceded. “According to the judge, Section 27 is so clear; I do not think there is any merit in appealing this ruling,” he said.
Asked if the matter ends there, Banner said that he would have to take direction from his client.
Banner added that the issue of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) law has been raised, as thought is being given to whether or not this matter should be put before the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Jack Charles declined to speak to reporters when he exited the courtroom with Banner.
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