CCJ upholds High Court decision in Guyanese mining dispute

By Caribbean Court of Justice

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(PRESS RELEASE) – In the case of Wayne Vieira v Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) today determined that the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission had no authority to issue a Cease Work Order (CWO) directing Mr. Vieira to cease all work under his mining permits because he had no agreement with the Chinese Landing/Tassawini Village Council.

Allegedly unknown to the Commission, Mr. Vieira had made several attempts since 2009 to secure a new agreement with the Village Council. His efforts, which included engaging the Prime Minister, who was the Minister responsible for mines and minerals, proved futile. The CWO was issued on 26 November 2010 under the Mining Regulations because of the absence of an agreement with the Village Council, as was required under the Amerindian law.

According to the CWO, the Mines Officer deemed the stoppage to be ‘absolutely necessary’ for the maintenance of the public peace or for the protection of the State’s, or private persons, rights.

Mr. Vieira successfully challenged the decision to issue the CWO in the High Court before Justice Insanally who determined that the order could only be issued in relation to breaches concerning the Mining Act and not the Amerindian law. The Commission appealed to the Court of Appeal and won, following which the miner appealed to the CCJ.

The Commission argued that Mr. Vieira’s attempts to reach an agreement to mine the lands, and his argument that he was treated unfairly, were irrelevant as the organization was required by law to automatically issue the order. Mr. Vieira contended that not only was his conduct and treatment relevant but that the Mines Officer was not authorized to issue the CWO for a breach of any law other than the Mining Act.

Upon review of the Act, the CCJ determined that the Minister responsible for the Mining Act could not make regulations under that law with a view to aiding or enforcing the requirements of another law – the Amerindian Act.

As such, the Mines Officer was not authorized to issue the CWO under the Mining Regulations for a violation of the Amerindian Act. It was observed, however, that this does not prevent the Commission from dealing with disputes arising under the Amerindian law if the dispute could be regarded in an appropriate case as also being a dispute under the Mining Regulations. However, the Court determined that this would not apply in this instance.

The Court also decided that the law required the issuance of the CWO to be ‘absolutely necessary’, which had not been established or even contemplated by the Mines Officer or Commission. It was also concluded that Mr. Vieira was entitled to an opportunity to oppose the order and to challenge whether it was absolutely necessary.

Accordingly, Justice Insanally’s decision was restored and Mr. Vieira was awarded costs in all three courts.

The application was heard on 1 December 2017, and judgment issued less than a week later, by the Bench of the CCJ comprising the Right Honourable Sir Dennis Byron, President of the CCJ, and the Honourable Justices Wit, Hayton, Rajnauth-Lee, and Barrow. Mr. Vieira was represented by Ms. Jamela A. Ali and Mr. Sanjeev J. Datadin, Attorneys-at-Law, and the Commission’s Attorney-at-Law was Mr. Nikhil Ramkarran.

The full decision of the Court can be accessed via the CCJ’s website at www.ccj.org.

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