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Appeal Court sends oil licence case back to High Court

Guyana’s  Court of Appeal has sent the Ramon Gaskin vs the Ministry of Natural Resources case back to the High Court for a Full Court hearing because it said it was hearing arguments that were never brought before Justice Holder.

Gaskin is contending that Exxon’s partners in the Liza 1 project – Hess and Nexen – have no environmental permits allowing them to engage in oil exploration here. Justice Franklyn Holder had dismissed his appeal, ruling in part that the three companies constituted a single developer.

This morning’s hearing centred around the matter of whether the Court of Appeal should hear the matter expeditiously. Appellate Judge Dawn Gregory said Gaskin had put forth a two-prong argument; one to do with the ability of Hess and Nexen to carry out the licence safely; and the other procedural – that since the matter was dealt with urgently by the High Court it should be treated similarly by the Court of Appeal. While the court was not satisfied with urgency on the first count “we see merits in the second prong of the argument that the matter should be dealt with expeditiously. So we grant the application to treat it with urgency.”

However the judges reverted the matter back to the High Court because as Appellate Judge Rafiq Khan noted, “We are hearing arguments that were never heard in the High Court.” It will therefore be referred to the Chief Justice to fix a date for the matter to start anew before a Full Court. Appellate Judge Dr. Arif Bulkan also added he found “most startling” the omission in the proceedings of the Environmental Protection Agency as a party to the case despite being the agency approving the permits.

Representing the Ministry of Natural Resources is Senior Counsel, Edward Luckhoo, along with the Attorney General’s Chambers while Gaskin is represented by Trinidad-based Guyanese Senior Counsel, Seenath Jairam and attorney Melinda Janki.

Gaskin, through his lawyers, fear that Hess and Nexen will escape liability should there be an incident such as an oil spill that can affect the Caribbean islands.

Esso Exploration and Production Limited is controlled by ExxonMobil.