Jacqueline Wilson

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Lawyers representing St Lucia-based Rock Hard Distribution Limited, its local distributor and the Ministry of Trade and Industry were yesterday locked in discussions over a temporary stay of Government’s move to introduce a quota and licensing regime for the importation of cement.

When the case brought by Rock Hard came up for virtual hearing before Justice Jacqueline Wilson, Senior Counsel Deborah Peake, who led the ministry’s legal team, indicated that an undertaking given by her client when the case was filed, late last month, expired yesterday.

Peake stated that her client was unwilling to give a further undertaking as it felt that the companies would not be affected or prejudiced by the new policy while their lawsuit over it is being determined expeditiously, as claimed.

Peake noted that based on her client’s records of cement imports since Rock Hard entered the local market almost four years ago, it would not reach the proposed quota while the case is being determined in the first quarter of this year.

She also referred to a notice issued by the companies on the issue, which stated that its operations would be suspended until next month.

“When Government sets policy, it does so for the entire country. We have to consider the effect on Rock Hard but we have a country to manage,” Peake said, as she noted that the Government could not consider a foreign company over its citizens.

She noted that her client’s actions were based on several factors including the country’s ongoing foreign exchange issues.

Senior Counsel Ian Benjamin maintained that his clients’ concerns over the potential of the policy to financially ruin the companies were valid.

“What we face is a quite challenging circumstance,” Benjamin said.

After holding preliminary discussion with the parties, Wilson agreed to give them time to attempt to arrive at a compromise.

She indicated that if the parties did not agree by yesterday afternoon, she would have to set a date to hear the injunction application, which was brought by the companies as part of their case.

During the hearing, the parties also agreed to have a rolled up hearing in which Wilson would decide whether they should be granted permission to hear the case and the substantive issues simultaneously, as opposed to separately as is done in traditional judicial review cases.

The trial of the case is set to take place on February 25.

Rock Hard is also being represented by Jagdeo Singh and Justin Phelps.