Dominican lawyer based in Barbados, Zahidha James believes that the judgement of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) directing Clico International Life Insurance Limited (CLICO), to pay a debt to two Dominicans, may present an opportunity for other persons who find themselves in similar situations.
James represented Dominican brothers, Octavius and Laurent John in the matter against CLICO.
In the judgement, which was delivered on April 18, 2019, the CCJ ordered CLICO to pay EC$1,423,329.46 to Octavius John and Laurent John within ten days of the Court’s judgment.
CLICO, a Barbadian insurance and investment company, in which the John brothers had invested, ran into financial difficulties and the brothers took CLICO to court after the company failed to pay when their policies expired.
In September 2010, the High Court of Dominica granted the complainants a default judgement against CLICO in the sum of EC$1,423,329.46 plus interest. However, from the 14th of April 2011, CLICO was placed under judicial management which prevented the John brothers from collecting any payment despite having obtained a consent order in February that same year.
The brothers sought to enforce their Dominican judgment against CLICO in Barbados but that move was rejected by the Barbados Court of Appeal which then granted them leave to appeal to the CCJ.
James explained during an interview with Dominica News Online (DNO), that she was contacted by Octavius John after he had gone through a long process of being told, even by certain ministers in various jurisdictions, that it was futile to pursue the case, as CLICO was under judicial management and could not be sued.
She said that after doing a lot of research on judicial management, she became quite confident that the Johns had a good case.
“I would not have taken the case if I didn’t think we would eventually win,” James stated.
She said that in addition to the inability of the brothers to collect on the judgement because the company was under judicial management, another influencing factor was that CLICO had given the assurance that they would start making payments by April 2011, but this was the exact month they went under Judicial Management.
“And so, what happened to my clients is that the time they could have taken to push to enforce their court order, they waited, based on assurances from CLICO that they would be paid, and they were held off in trying to enforce their judgement and that was influential in the case,” James noted. “The Court felt that from a fairness standpoint, they deserved to collect on their money.”
The court emphasized strongly that CLICO, as argued in the appellants submissions, had no viable plan to address policy holders after 8 years, and that Judicial Management should be “temporary” which, according to James, was a major factor in their decision.
She stated that the court was so moved by the Johns’ predicament and the evidence in the matter, that it opted to award the money within 10 days.
“Our original application was for leave to enforce the Dominica judgment which would have required further litigation. They were persuaded by the evidence to use their wide discretion however, to award the money now and therefore save the Johns further costly litigation,” she explained.
James said there’s also a human element to the judgement where the court was concerned about having a person who is suffering financially and health-wise, with a judgement that puts them in a worse position than anybody else and with no plan in place to address their claim.
“So, if you are a person who falls within any of these categories which I don’t think is unlikely, because I think quite a few people are affected financially and health-wise by CLICO, and possibly might have experienced similar treatment by the company in one form or the other. They may very well look at this case and say ‘I kind of fall into this category’,” James suggested. “How many people that is? We can’t say for sure; it depends on each individual case but now, it’s sort of open for people to re-evaluate and see where they fall; see where this proposed scheme affects them or doesn’t affect them, and then how it compares with their individual situation.”
When asked about the significance of the case for her as a lawyer, James pointed out that it was her interest in human rights that prompted her to become a lawyer and that she has always treated the case as a human rights issue.
“So, I was grateful for the opportunity to help people and it was the most amazing thing to be able to say to my client look, we’ve had success and we’ve had final success at the very end,” she remarked. “For me as an attorney, I’m just happy that this may have indications for other people who might be suffering. It might give them some hope.”
She advises CLICO to prioritize and accelerate its plans with regard to restructuring the company, with the judicial management process and addressing claims, “if they’ve not been doing that before.”
James, who is the daughter of former prime minister of Dominica, Edison James, earned a first degree in Economics at the University of Toronto in Canada. She then studied law in England and was subsequently called to the bar there. She’s also called to the bar in Trinidad and Tobago where she lived for two years before moving to Barbados where she has been practising law for the past ten years.
James has also been called in Dominica.