CCJ rules in favour of Belize Government

Thursday, March 22, 2018

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) – The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) yesterday ruled in favour of the Belize Government in its application to reduce the interest rate contained in a certificate issued by the court.

The certificate was made following an arbitral award made against the Government. A rate of interest of 17 per cent compounded monthly was initially awarded in the 2013 arbitration award of BZ$36 million (One Belize dollar=US$0.49 cents) made by a tribunal of the London Court of International Arbitration against Belize in favour of the Belize Bank.

In November last year, CCJ gave permission for the bank to have the arbitration award enforced as if it were a judgement.

Following the CCJ's ruling, the bank requested a certificate under the Crown Proceedings Act from the CCJ's Registrar to detail the amount of money owed to the Bank by Belize. The certificate was duly issued in January 2018.

According to the certificate, the debt stood at BZ$91.6 million as at 15 December 2017, with interest “continuing to accrue at 17 per cent compounded monthly until the date of payment”.

But the Belize Government applied to have that rate reduced from the date of the certificate.

Its team of lawyers, including Dr Ben Juratowitch QC, and Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, argued that the applicable interest rate was the six per cent permitted under Belize law on all judgements in Belize. However, the bank, which was represented by attorneys Eamon Courtenay SC and Angeline Welsh, countered by suggesting that the CCJ's November 2017 order was final.

But in granting the Government's application, the CCJ noted that, since the certificate was in effect the judgement on the award, the repetition of the award's terms in the certificate was inadvertent.

It said the contractual debt for principal and interest merged in the judgement debt upon which interest of six per cent became payable under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act.

“It would naturally be unfair to the Government of Belize that post-judgement interest should be imposed at almost triple the statutory rate in circumstances where this was not sought by the Bank, and the attorney general had no meaningful opportunity in court to make any submissions in this regard.

“The post-judgement interest figure in the certificate was an unfortunate replication of the terms of the award,” the five-member CCJ panel of judges, including its president, Sir Dennis Byron, stated.

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