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Friendly society ordered to pay Government’s legal costs

Puisne Judge Larry Mussenden (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A friendly society has been ordered to pay the Government’s legal costs for its unsuccessful action to secure the ability to offer vehicle insurance.

The Bentley Friendly Society had argued that the Government had wrongly ordered the Transport Control Department to stop accepting its policies in 2014. It then launched a fresh appeal after the Government made a “correction” to the legislation in 2020.

However, both legal efforts failed, with the Supreme Court ordering the society to pay for the Government’s legal expenses for the latter case.

In a hearing on Tuesday, the society called on the courts for leniency and argued the Government should take some responsibility.

Craig Walls, of the BFS, said he understood that it had lost its case and that it would need to get permission from the Minister of Finance to sell vehicle insurance – permission it did not believe it would receive.

He added: “We are asking for the court to have some consideration for who we are and why these actions were taken.”

However, Puisne Judge Larry Mussenden said that while Mr Walls had passionately argued the case, he had not addressed the court’s finding that their arguments were an abuse of process and bound to fail.

“He still remains as passionate today about the issues as he was from the start,” Mr Justice Mussenden said. “However, in my view, I will not vary the costs order.”

The BFS began to offer its members vehicle insurance in late 2013, and TCD processed about 50 licence applications with BFS listed as the insurer between November 2013 and April 2014.

However, the Government ordered TCD to stop accepting the policies, sparking a legal action.

The society argued that the Friendly Societies Act 1868 and the Insurance Act 1978 allowed it to offer motor insurance to its members.

But in 2016 the court ruled that the BFS still needed the authorisation of the Governor to offer vehicle insurance.

The society launched a new appeal last year after the Government “corrected” legislation to state that authorisation was needed from the Minister of Finance rather than the Governor.

The BFS argued the case should be reconsidered in the wake of the correction and called for $20 million in damages along with an order that the Government should reverse the 2014 decision to not accept their policies.

But Mr Justice Mussenden said in a February 10 judgment that the Bentley Friendly Society had adopted a “shotgun approach” to its arguments, but the legal basis of most were “unarguable or almost incontestably bad”.

He ordered that costs should follow the judgment, but BFS called on him to vary the order.

In an in-chambers hearing on Tuesday, Melvin Douglas, of the Attorney-General’s Chambers, quoted the original ruling that it was “plain and obvious” the case should be struck out.

In those circumstances, he said it was right that the Crown should have its costs covered.

Mr Walls said the BFS was only attempting to recoup something they felt had been improperly taken away from them by the Government.

“Our property has been taken from us and it’s as if we are being penalised for protecting ourselves in the face of errors caused by the Government,” he said.

Mr Walls added that he was not a lawyer and urged the court not to hold it against the society if he had made arguments poorly.

“We couldn’t afford in 2014 to get proper legal advice to fight the Government,” he said. “That’s why we are here asking for relief.”

No figure for the costs was given.

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