Jul 23, 2017 News
By Rehanna Ramsay
In anticipation of new matters which will arise from the emerging Oil and Gas sector, members of the local judiciary have embarked on a capacity building workshop that focused on the regulatory framework of the industry in the Caribbean.
Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, who spearheaded the initiative, disclosed that the workshop is intended to build Guyana’s judicial preparedness to deal with matters related to the Oil and Gas sector.
Last week, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, was among those who acknowledged that local judges will require capacity-building exercises so that they can be able to effectively handle the legal issues that may arise from a complex oil and gas industry which Guyana is currently preparing to be a part of.
Harmon had asserted that “our judges are trained in the law, but there are some specific issues which would arise from this area of development and clearly our judges, I am sure, would adjust to it.”
Harmon added, “The judicial officers are also benefitting from training locally and abroad…And more of this is taking place.”
Responding to comments on the country’s legal capacity to deal with the issue, the Acting Chancellor explained that Oil and Gas was among the main topics at the recently concluded Annual Judges Conference.
Justice Cummings-Edwards disclosed that under this year’s theme “the Role of Guyanese Judiciary in the Evolving Juridical Landscape,” Judges were enlightened on the fundamental legal concepts in the Oil and Gas industry.
The presentations conducted by University of the West Indies (UWI) Oil and Gas Law Lecturer, Alicia Elias-Roberts focused on key legal issues and legal challenges in the sector. According to Justice Cummings-Edwards, the presentation was part of training aimed at preparing the Guyanese Judiciary to meet the demands which the new industry will place on the justice system.
The Conference also encompassed presentations on the evolution of petroleum laws in the Region, and issues to be dealt with such as review of concessions agreement, and the increasing equity and revenue of governments; new tax regulations under the Oil and Gas Sector; the sovereignty independence, socialism and nationalism of the Oil Industry as well as expropriation and Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC).
The Chancellor noted that systems are already in place to handle expeditiously matters of the emerging sector.
“It is worthy to note that emergence of the Oil and Gas Sector in Guyana will be taking place after the introduction in February of new Civil Procedures Rules 2017. These rules are designed to help expedite the pace of civil litigation through adequate case management—a process in which cases are assigned to a single judge from the filing of defence and managed by the same judge to final disposition.
“Alternatively if a fixed date application is filed, a hearing will be fixed before a judge within at the most, 28 days of filing, depending on the nature and urgency of the matter. Litigation arising within the new sector will therefore benefit from the new regime of procedures and should be disposed of without lengthy delays.
Since matters are filed under the Civil Procedure Rules 2017 are now judge-driven, members of the local bar have had to adjust in order to keep abreast with the new practices and procedures.
Justice Cummings Edwards asserted that the judiciary will continue to take the steps necessary to prepare and equip its members to deliver effective and efficient service to all entities and individuals who approach the Courts.
“It is also known that contracts in the Oil and Gas Industry may often contain arbitration clauses by which the contracting parties agree to refer some disputes to international arbitration, thereby reducing the matters taken to Court.”
Recently, Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo in response to queries on the Oil and Gas Sector asserted that somehow, Guyana has to build capacity when it comes to the judiciary. He expressed the hope that sooner rather than later, specialized courts would be established to deal with such issues. He said that a commercial court, for example, could be put in place to deal specifically with oil and gas cases in a swift matter.
He too shared the opinion that training would be needed for some of Guyana’s judges.
Several legal experts have also opined that Guyana’s judicial system is currently not prepared for the complex legal issues that may arise from the looming multibillion-dollar oil and gas sector.
Attorney-at-Law, Sanjeev Datadin, who has worked with several international oil and gas companies, holds the view that Guyana’s judicial system is simply too slow, understaffed, and lacks individuals with the necessary knowledge and skills.
Were legal issues to arise from the oil and gas sector, Datadin predicts that most companies will opt for arbitration. He opined that there will be arbitration centres just as there are in Trinidad.
The attorney believes that major companies which come into Guyana are going to be distrustful of the judicial system, given the perception of how long cases take to be heard, how easily records get lost, personalities involved, among other discouraging observations.
Datadin said that the arbitration process would have to go up parallel to the court system, since this is how it is usually done.
“It usually would come through the business sector; the chamber of commerce and similar things would establish arbitration tribunals and panels, and then you would need a list of arbitrators.”
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