Categorized | National News

Another Loss For Web Shops

The Court of Appeal yesterday rejected the web shops’ bid to stay a conservatory order, which gave them the legal protection to remain open.

The order was originally given by Supreme Court Justice Jon Isaacs on January 30 just a day after Prime Minister Perry Christie ordered all web shops to be shut down.

Last week, Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett discharged the order.

The chief justice said at the time that he did not feel there was any prudent cause for him to prevent the authorities from carrying out their duties.

During proceedings in the appellate court yesterday, attorney Wayne Munroe, who represents Island Games, Island Luck, FML, Asue Draw, Whatfall and Chances, said Sir Michael made a number of errors when he made his judgement.

The attorney said the chief justice acted prematurely when he made his decision.

Mr. Munroe said Sir Michael should have considered whether the web shops have a case that can be tried.

That case, he said would be to determine if the web shop do indeed fall within the boundaries of the Lotteries and Gaming Act.

He also said the chief justice should have determined if there were damages to be paid and if damages would be a proper remedy.

The attorney noted however, that the web shops are not seeking damages.

At this point, Court of Appeal President Anita Allen asked Mr. Munroe if the conservatory order hindered the police from carrying out investigations or prosecution or if it prevents his clients from carrying out their businesses under the law.

Mr. Munroe admitted that it did not.

The attorney then said the application was really based on what was reported in media reports, which quoted Prime Minister Perry Christie and other politicians.

He said the fundamental issue for the courts to decide is whether providing the internet as a service falls within the Lotteries and Gaming Act.

Mr. Munroe also urged the court to expedite the appeal.

He said his clients fear that politicians would put pressure on the commissioner of police to shut down the web shops.

To that Justice Allen said, “Police can carry out their duties without interfering with lawful businesses.”

Alfred Sears, who represents Paradise Gaming, said his client’s business was established in 2012.

He said his client has 26 locations throughout The Bahamas and it operates under an internet café, restaurant, bar and provides BTC top-ups.

The attorney said the customers purchase an account and they visit any web site they wish.

Mr. Sears said his client’s fear is that his business can be subject to a police raid and all of the patrons could be arrested even though they are there for a legitimate reason.

“It could be a student just doing research,” he said.

Justice Allen then pointed out that web cafés are not synonymous with web shop gaming.

Mr. Sears said the statements from the government have caused fear with his client. He added that his client fears bankruptcy.

Justice Allen then reiterated that the conservatory order does not interfere with his client.

“They have the right to carry out their businesses. But they do not have the right to break the law. No court can support them to do that,” she said.

Loren Klien, who represented the Attorney General’s Office, argued that the true nature of the web shop operations is still not known.

He noted that anyone who participates in gaming on a premises that does not have a license under the Lotteries and Gaming Act could face a fine of $500.

“None of the applicants have a license under that Act,” Mr. Klien said.

Outside of Court, Mr. Munroe said he didn’t feel the appellate panel’s decision was a setback.

“You would have heard me say that my clients’ fears are driven by some irresponsible politicians. I think the commissioner of police described them as much as well – trying to insight mischief. Well the court is not trying to stop mischief because for those who would try to insight mischief, we have a remedy for that,” he said.

“If there was some reason to believe that the commissioner would run amuck then the result may well have been different.”

Justice Allen said that everyone was ignoring the “elephant in the room” which is that police can only arrest people if there is something illegal going on.

Mr. Sears said he believes that matter was addressed.

“We’ve filed the statement of claim and of course it is not unusual in any writ action for the generally endorsed writ to basically lay out the claims, which is being laid and it is the statement of claim that you would have more details in terms of the grounds, the evidence that you hope to establish during the trial. So clearly the statement of claim that we have filed contains certainly much more information than the generally insured writ,” he said.

The substantive appeal will be heard on May 24.

At that time, Messrs Munroe and Sears will argue that Sir Michael made a number of errors in his ruling.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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