The speed at which the court moved last week to hear an interim injunction in the Banks Holdings Limited (BHL) take-over case has prompted lawyers for former CLICO executive Leroy Parris to raise questions about the equality of the justice system in Barbados.
Hal Gollop QC and Vernon Smith QC, representing the former CLICO chairman and his company, Branley Consulting Services, say they are gravely concerned about how the court is treating their clients.
The lawyers contend that they have been waiting for close to a year now to get a ruling on their application for the lifting of an injunction brought by the Judicial Manager for CLICO International Life Insurance (CIL) that froze the bank account of Parris to the tune $4.5 million.
Last Friday, the Chief Justice lifted an injunction after just three days of legal arguments by lawyers representing BHL, as well as the Trinidadian conglomerate ANSA McAl and Brazilian beverage giant AMBEV, the two entities which are in a hostile bidding war for total ownership of BHL.
ANSA McAl had applied for and was granted the interim injunction from Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, effectively suspending the trading of all BHL shares on the Barbados Stock Exchange and elsewhere. By having the injunction in place, ANSA McAl was seeking to buy time to fight an earlier agreement between AMBEV’s St Lucia-registered subsidiary, SLU Beverages, and BHL that the Trinidadian conglomerate described as oppressive and not in the interest of shareholders.
“Here we are, seven months down the road, and we cannot tell when a decision from the court will be given,” lamented Gollop in an interview with Barbados TODAY, flanked by Smith. “So when along comes this decision in . . . the Banks Holdings Limited matter, the court settled the matter with the kind of urgency that it has demonstrated, it must cause concern on our part and the part of our client, whether he has been accorded the protection of the law and equality of treatment under the law.”
Comparing the status of his client’s case, the senior lawyer was even more upset that the top judge was able to return from his chambers after deliberating for 40 minutes and hand down a ruling. Gollop said: “In drawing comparisons of this nature, based on the rule of precedence, like cases should be decided in like manner. This being a very similar kind of application, (it) has nothing to do with the subject matter, the application essentially is . . . for the discharge of an injunction.”
Saying that people who appear before the courts must feel confident that they would get equal justice and fairness as guaranteed by the Constitution of Barbados, Gollop told Barbados TODAY they may now have to take further legal action to try to speed up a ruling.
“I filed a constitutional motion after we could not get the matter heard and then the matter was heard. Maybe the only thing one can do again is to file another constitutional motion,” said Gollop, explaining that the practice in judicial circles was that interim injunctions, once granted, were accompanied by a return date for hearing the case, generally within five to seven days.
Gollop noted that like in the BHL situation, legal arguments in the Parris and Branley case went on for three days after the Chief Justice took over the case which previously had gone from judge to judge. He recalled that the court then gave an undertaking that the parties would be informed of its decision in due course.
“It is now almost seven months to the day and we have had no notice of when the court intends to give a decision on our application for the discharge of the injunction
This cannot be fair,” the senior lawyer stressed, arguing that the livelihood of Parris and the future of his company “have been threatened in the process.”
He said financial problems resulting from the freezing of Parris’ assets would worsen while the matter drags on.
Smith said there was a well enunciated rule in law, recognized by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which calls for the removal of a judge who takes more than six months –– in a difficult case –– and more than three months –– in an ordinary chamber matter –– to give a decision.
The veteran attorney said the law described such failure as gross judicial misconduct which merits the removal of the judge.