Traditionally, in order for persons involved in litigation in the Supreme Court to participate in such proceedings – whether as a claimant, a defendant or even a witness – they had to be present in the court. At times, this strict requirement of personal presence served as a barrier to the ultimate goal of resolving disputes through litigation where persons involved therein were unable to attend the trial in person. Notably, the Civil Procedure Rules introduced the option to give evidence through a video link.
Foreign arbitration is seen as an alternative method of dispute resolution that may be preferred to litigation. However, Belize case law has identified the difficulties that might be encountered by an award holder in attempting to enforce an award. It is also arguable that the option of foreign arbitration has been undermined by the passing of the Crown Proceedings (Amendment) Act and the Central Bank of Belize (International Immunities) Act 2017.
Arbitration in Belize is governed by the Arbitration Act. As the act was last amended in 1980 (1980 Ordinance), it has become somewhat outdated. However, the 1980 Ordinance assisted in Belize's assimilation of a modern arbitration enforcement regime by incorporating the New York Convention into domestic law. This article looks at recent arbitration developments in the local courts, including cases concerning qualifications of or challenges to arbitrators and investor-state disputes.
Arbitration in Belize is governed by the Arbitration Act. As the act was last amended in 1980, it has become somewhat outdated. However, these amendments assisted in Belize's assimilation of a modern arbitration enforcement regime by incorporating the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1958 into domestic law. In 2017 legislation was enacted that has directly affected the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in Belize and abroad.
The Supreme Court recently highlighted the need to comply strictly with essential legal requirements when investing in property abroad. It found that US citizens who had purchased timeshare interests in a residential resort could not exercise their purported rights in priority of a bank's mortgage interest on the property because they had not registered their timeshares or paid the required stamp duty.
The Belize Court of Appeal recently confirmed that indemnities given by a Belizean company to its directors deprived the company of a cause of action to pursue a claim against former directors for decisions taken during their term as company directors. Belize continues to recognise blanket indemnities given by a company to directors as legal.
The Belize Court of Appeal has provided guidance to litigants involved in multi-jurisdictional litigation. The court interpreted the rules applicable to commencing a claim against foreign defendants, and service of a claim form and interim injunction on parties outside the jurisdiction. Under the Civil Procedure Rules there is no need to obtain permission to issue a claim form for service abroad.
The Caribbean Court of Justice has addressed the issue of whether New York Convention Awards should be enforced. The case is exceptional and should be confined to its unusual facts. However, it stands as highly persuasive authority for the proposition that violations of the constitutional order by a government when affording tax concessions to investors may afford a defence to enforcement of an arbitral award.
The Caribbean Court of Justice has delivered a landmark decision which narrows the circumstances in which a government may resort to its domestic courts to restrain international arbitration proceedings. The decision is an important victory for international investors in the Commonwealth Caribbean, since many bilateral investment treaties include clauses for resolution of disputes by international arbitration.
The Caribbean Court of Justice is expected to deliver a landmark ruling on arbitration law in the next few months. The court will decide whether the enforcement of an arbitral award issued by the London Court of International Arbitration against the Belize government is contrary to Belize public policy.
Receivers are usually appointed pursuant to the provisions of a mortgage debenture or a registered mortgage or charge. Although a receiver is expressed to be the company's agent, it does not take directions from the company, but rather gives directions to it. Where a receiver fails to carry out its duties with due diligence, it may become personally liable to the debenture holder or the company.
The International Limited Liability Company (LLC) Act provides a general framework for the establishment and operation of an international LLC. The act introduces numerous asset protection features that make Belize's LLC one of the strongest asset protection tools available.
The Belize Supreme Court has jurisdiction to grant a free-standing freezing order in respect of the assets of an international business company – more colloquially known as an offshore company – in order to freeze the company's assets in aid of ongoing foreign proceedings. However, the court exercises this jurisdiction with great caution, and often reluctantly.
Tobacco giants Philip Morris SA and British American Tobacco (Brands) Limited (BAT) have been locked in combat over the registration of BAT's EMBASSY trademark in Belize. BAT has thus far persuaded the deputy registrar, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal that it should be permitted to proceed with registration of its mark.
Norwich Pharmacal applications have become commonplace in Belize due to the country's thriving international financial services sector. One of the most recent successes is illustrated in Quinn Finance v Galfis Overseas Limited, which demonstrates that Norwich Pharmacal orders can be a powerful tool in multi-jurisdictional litigation.
The first claim made under the Trade Unions and Employers' Organisations (Registration, Recognition and Status) Act was filed by six former employees of banana farm Mayan King Limited. The employees alleged that they had been dismissed due to their role in spearheading a movement to unionise the workers and. The compensation awarded to the claimants was largely affected by the particular facts of the case.
The controversial Belize Constitution (Eighth Amendment) Bill was recently introduced in the House of Representatives against the background of the Court of Appeal's decision that the government's nationalisation of Belize Telemedia Limited was unlawful, null and void. The primary purpose of the amendment was to make renationalisation beyond legal challenge.
Noteworthy tax measures have accompanied the 2012-2013 national budget. Service providers in the international financial services sector will now pay business tax at a rate of 3%. This will apply to the portion of their services provided to non-residents, if that revenue is maintained separately from domestic revenue. However, if there is a commingling of receipts, then the service provider will be taxed at 6%.
The Referendum Act allows the electorate to trigger a process that can lead to the holding of a referendum. A referendum can be called in various circumstances, including if 10% of registered voters present a petition that an issue is of sufficient public importance be put to a referendum. To date, only two referendums have been held.
In 2009 the Belize government nationalised Belize Telemedia Limited. The legality of the nationalisation was challenged, but the Supreme Court found it to be constitutional. However, the appeal court recently declared the nationalisation to be "unlawful, null and void". Nevertheless, the government refused to comply with the judgment, stating that it would remain in control of Telemedia unless a court order was issued.