The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council sneaked in an oral judgment on Tuesday, saying the $400 million highway extension to Manzanilla should resume.
The Privy Council is on a two-month break, but sent out a notice to the lawyers saying the appeal was dismissed and a written judgment will be given on October 8.
The Board heard the appeal on July 30 and reserved judgment. The Board comprised Lords Reed, Wilson, Carnwath, Lloyd-Jones, and Lady Black.
The Privy Council rejected environmental activist group, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS)’s final appeal over the dismissal of its lawsuit challenging a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) granted by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA).
The decision means that an injunction granted to the group by the local Court of Appeal was automatically removed.
FFOS challenged decisions by the High Court and Court of Appeal to strike out its lawsuit, in which it was challenging the process used by the EMA to grant the ministry the CEC for the first phase between Cumuto and Guaico. The five-kilometre segment is estimated to cost $400 million. Both local courts ruled that the case was filed outside the three-month statutory limit.
While FFOS was required to file the lawsuit three months after the EMA granted the ministry the CEC on June 22, last year, it filed it exactly three months after it learned of the decision on July 6.
In its lawsuit, the group was claiming that the proposed route infringes on the Aripo Savannas forest reserve, which was declared an environmentally sensitive area by the EMA in 2007.
The reserve consists of 1,780 hectares of land which is home to over 500 species of plants including seven rare species and two endemic kinds of grass as well the endangered ocelot.
In defence of the claim, the EMA denied any wrongdoing in its process and pointed out that the CEC contained safeguards including constant monitoring by its team of technical experts to ensure compliance.
In its decision in March, the Court of Appeal also agreed with High Court Judge Kevin Ramcharan that most of the grounds raised by the group in its judicial review lawsuit were devoid of merit.
In a release issued after the ruling, the EMA stated: “This judgment confirms the EMA’s rigorous process which has once again, withstood the scrutiny of the highest courts.”
However, none of the three courts that presided over the case did an in-depth review of the EMA’s process as that would have been done if the substantive case went to trial.
FFOS, in a release, said that it was saddened but not discouraged by the outcome.
“FFOS is proud to have fought to protect the voiceless in this precious eco-system (the largest and last remaining naturally occurring savannas) in our country and to have petitioned the court for the highway to be simply be moved 400 metres south of the Savannas to protect rare, threatened, endemic, endangered, vulnerable species and the legally designated environmentally sensitive species, the ocelot.”
THE PATH TO THE HIGHWAY