NASSAU, The Bahamas: During today’s session of the Supreme Court of the Bahamas, The Honorable Supreme Court Justice Petra Hanna-Weekes did not make a final decision on the judicial review application, nor render a decision on the application for a stay of the drilling, nor render a decision on BPC’s bid to join the proceedings as a party.
At the outset the Judge indicated that she was denying application for leave, based specifically on decisions taken by the government in February and April 2020. However, Fred Smith QC, attorney for the applicants, pointed out that this could not be done without an actual hearing according to Supreme Court rules that states that in no case shall leave be refused without giving the applicant a hearing.
The judge said she would consider this and revert on Saturday, 26 December.
The judge also stated that she intended to have two other grounds for judicial review, based on governments decisions in August and November, to go to a hearing, indicating this case will likely be heard on some level.
Unfortunately BPC has already made false public statements about this matter indicating that the issue has been decided and the application is refused. This is a blatant attempt to influence the media and perhaps the confidence of their shareholders. During the process it has also become clear that the Bahamas Petroleum Company does not want it’s opponents to win or lose on the strength of the case. No doubt fearful that the applicants will be successful, the company instead seems determined to price its opponents out of justice before they ever get their day in court.
The Judicial Review matter is between oil drilling opponents and the government, and concerns whether or not officials granted various approvals for this project correctly. Attorney for the applicants Fred Smith QC made it clear that there is no objection to BPC being heard by the court as an interested stakeholder and also asked that the matter be heard as quickly as possible.
However, BPC is not content to just be heard, but rather insists upon intervening by applying to become a party to the matter, even though no one is suing them. In many previous public interest judicial review proceedings, this move has been used as a precursor to apply for “security for costs” – a bond, likely in the many millions of dollars, that drilling opponents would have to produce upfront in order to continue with their case.
This tactic is used by powerful interests precisely because concerned citizens do not often have the resources to cover teams of expensive lawyers, nor withstand the various obstructive tactics which are often brought to bear, in the event that they lose.
A short, self-contained hearing on the merits of the application would ensure that justice is not priced out of the reach of regular individuals. But once joined, the oil company can draw out the case as long as possible, driving up costs or until their project is complete and the challenge is rendered effectively meaningless.
Our Islands Our Future hopes that over the next few days, the government will consider supporting the applicants’ desire for a swift hearing and resolution of this matter. They were advised in writing weeks ago of this challenge, and should not need any more time to file evidence in what is really a straightforward case.