Litigation 2024

Last Updated December 05, 2023


Law and Practice


Barrow and Williams LLP is a seven-member firm based in Belize City, established in 1989 by its founding partners, Rodwell Williams, SC and Dean Barrow, SC. Its litigation practice spans both trial and appellate work across the spectrum of Belize’s court system. Commercial litigation is an area of particular focus but the firm is active in civil litigation generally. It represents major banks, utility companies, hotels and hospitality outfits, insurance companies, real estate businesses, and other local and international businesses. Key practice areas include admiralty matters, asset tracing and recovery, banking and financial disputes, contractual disputes, defamation and libel, economic torts, estate matters, tax disputes and utility regulation issues.

Belize is a former British colony, previously known as British Honduras. Its legal system is based on English common law. Belize has a written constitution adopted on 21 September 1981, its date of independence from Great Britain. This constitution includes an extensive bill of rights and also establishes the judicial arm of Belize’s government and the Belize High Court.

Belize’s court system follows an adversarial model. The delivery of arguments in court is conducted both orally and in writing. The system is mainly comprised of the following four levels, from the top down:

  • the Caribbean Court of Justice;
  • the Belize Court of Appeal;
  • the High Court; and
  • the Magistrates' Court.

In addition, the Labour Complaints Tribunal has jurisdiction to hear appeals arising from complaints of unfair dismissal or wrongful termination.

As per the Supreme Court (Electronic Filing and Service) Rules, 2021, the High Court accepts the electronic filing of documents in civil proceedings. Documents are filed by digitally uploading them through a portal managed by the High Court. A document filed in this manner is deemed to have been filed on the date and at the time when the filing fee is received by the court office and a copy of the document bearing the stamp or seal of the court is transmitted to the filing party. In exceptional circumstances, an emergency application may be filed at any time but must be accompanied by a Certificate of Urgency.

With the exception of certain matters that are considered particularly sensitive, court proceedings are generally open to the public. The trial of sexual offences, matters concerning the welfare of families and those involving minors are generally kept private and tried in camera. There is also a practice by which the High Court may order that the filings, record of proceedings and evidence in certain matters are sealed and kept private upon the application of a party to such actions.

According to Section 186 of the Senior Courts Act, 2022, hearings that were usually held in chambers are now conducted by videoconferencing. Court of Appeal hearings are being held remotely, while High Court trials are generally held in person. In certain circumstances, the High Court may still give permission for witnesses to testify via video link. Magistrates' Court matters are held in person.

Rights of audience are enjoyed by attorneys-at-law admitted to practise law in Belize under the Legal Profession Act, 2020 and those appearing as agents of the Belize government, still referred to as the Crown.

Belize’s High Court system provides for court-annexed mediation. Lay parties are free to represent themselves in these proceedings. The parties to such mediation are under an obligation to keep information disclosed during those sessions confidential.

Belize has not adopted legislation permitting litigation to be funded by third parties. Furthermore, the common law doctrine of champerty makes it unlawful for a third party with no previous interest in a suit to interfere in the disputes of others by funding it with a view to profiting from its proceeds. Similarly, the common law doctrine of maintenance prohibits a disinterested third party from meddling in the litigation of others’ disputes by supporting or encouraging it.

Attorneys are generally prohibited from entering into partnerships or fee sharing arrangements concerning the practice of law with non-qualified bodies or persons. Attorneys are also prohibited from accepting any fee or reward for merely introducing a client or referring a case or client to another attorney.

Given the restrictions discussed in 2.1 Third-Party Litigation Funding, this issue does not arise in this jurisdiction.

This issue does not arise in this jurisdiction.

This issue does not arise in this jurisdiction.

This issue does not arise in this jurisdiction.

Attorneys’ contingency fee agreements are expressly permitted by Section 33 of Belize’s Legal Profession Act, 2020. These agreements may be made to wholly or partly cover an attorney’s remuneration for legal business done on a client’s behalf; they must be in writing and signed by the client or their agent. These agreements may be sued on and recovered on or set aside.

However, if in any suit for the recovery of such fees the agreement appears to the court to be unfair and unconscionable, the court may order that the agreement is cancelled or that the amount payable under it is reduced. In that sense, the fairness of these agreements is subject to review by Belize’s courts.

This issue does not arise in this jurisdiction.

Although not mandatory, it is accepted common practice that putative claimants will make written demands of intended defendants before commencing a suit. These demands will generally specify what is being demanded and a reasonable period for compliance, failing which a suit will be commenced.

These steps are usually taken as a matter of courtesy. However, the coming into force of court-connected mediation rules (see 1.4 Legal Representation in Court) has also proved such pre-action steps to be of further use: once a suit is commenced, the court will very often require the parties to attempt out-of-court negotiation by referring the case to mediation. These pre-action steps may therefore save parties the cost and effort of commencing a suit by serving as a means to engage the other side before doing so.

A potential defendant may reply to such letters if they so choose.

The usual limitation period for actions founded in tort or contract is six years, beginning from the date when the cause of action arises. There is also a 12-year limitation period that applies with respect to matters founded on trust principles, those concerning claims made on the estates of deceased persons and some claims based on adverse possession of real property.

The jurisdiction of the Belize High Court is based upon a person’s physical presence within the jurisdiction of Belize. In contractual claims, a Belize court will generally recognise and honour the jurisdiction clause in the contract, including the parties’ choice of law and choice of dispute resolution mechanism and forum.

A person may be lawfully served with a court process emanating from the Belize High Court when that person is served at a place within the jurisdiction. Alternatively, a person may be lawfully served with a Belize court process outside of the jurisdiction with the permission of the Belize High Court. A defendant located outside of the jurisdiction may also choose to voluntarily accept service through an agent within the jurisdiction appointed for that purpose.

A defendant served outside of the jurisdiction runs the risk of being deemed as having voluntarily submitted to the Belize court’s jurisdiction, or having waived their right to challenge the court’s jurisdiction, if they actively take steps in the Belize proceedings without promptly indicating that they do not accept the court’s jurisdiction and intend to challenge it. This includes, for instance, where a defendant commences a counterclaim and takes steps to prosecute it in the Belize court. Although a Belize court may legally have jurisdiction over a foreign resident under certain conditions, the court may still nonetheless decline to exercise that jurisdiction. This applies, for instance, where a defendant validly raises a plea of forum non conveniens.

High Court claims are commenced by filing and serving a claim form setting out the particulars of the parties to the claim, the brief nature of the claim, and the relief sought. It is generally accompanied by a statement of claim, which supports the claim form by stating the claim in greater detail, including all information technically required by law.

Certain claims must be initiated by way of a fixed date claim form, such as:

  • proceedings for possession of land;
  • claims arising out of hire-purchase or credit sale agreements;
  • whenever the use of a fixed date claim form is required by a rule or practice direction; and
  • where proceedings are required to be commenced by originating summons or motion.

In certain cases, a supporting affidavit may accompany the fixed date claim form. Supporting affidavits would generally serve the same purpose as a statement of claim, except that they constitute sworn evidence supporting the claim upon its commencement and within the stage of pleadings. Although it includes a statement of truth by which a litigant certifies the truth of its contents, a statement of claim is a form of pleading, not sworn evidence.

Where a claimant uses a supporting affidavit, a defendant may likewise initially respond to the claim with their own evidence in the form of an affidavit in response. This procedure of using affidavits at the stage of commencing a claim is useful, and most common in administrative law and judicial review claims, for example.

Belize’s Supreme Court Civil Procedure Rules permit parties to amend their pleadings without the court’s permission at any time before the first case management conference; a party wishing to amend after that point can only do so with the court’s permission. Generally, the party must promptly apply to court demonstrating that there has been a sufficient change of circumstances since the first case management conference to justify the court’s granting of its permission.

An opposing party is generally served a court process through personal service. In the High Court, the service of a court process is the responsibility of a litigant, not the court. Service may also be effected by substituted methods, where the court gives permission to do so, for example, by publication in a newspaper of sufficiently wide circulation. The court will normally give such permission where a litigant proves that it is impracticable to accomplish personal service. In the case of Claim No. 414 of 2021 Lockwood v Christian, the High Court ruled that the claimant must prove that publication in a widely circulated newspaper is adequate to inform the defendant about the claim and understand its contents, in order for substituted service to be effective.

Since 19 August 2020, court documents may be served by email. The exceptions to email service are statements of case and applications for the sale of land, as per the Supreme Court of Judicature of Belize COVID-19 Directions, 2020.

A claimant may obtain a judgment in default against a defendant who fails to either acknowledge service of a claim in a timely manner or file and serve a defence.

Belize law permits representative actions. The court may appoint one or more persons or a body to represent five or more persons having the same or a similar interest in the proceedings. A representative may be appointed to act on behalf of either claimants or defendants. Where the court appoints a representative, an order of the court binds everyone represented by that party.

Such order may not, however, be enforced against a person who is not a party to the proceedings, unless the person wishing to enforce it obtains permission from the court. This facility for the representation of others in proceedings extends to the representation of persons who cannot be ascertained, including those yet to be born. These possibilities arise especially in proceedings concerning the estates of deceased persons, trust property, or the construction of written instruments.

There is no requirement for a cost estimate in Belize litigation.

In appropriate circumstances, Belize’s civil procedure rules allow parties to seek “interim” remedies, which include remedies that could be obtained before a claim was commenced. Interim orders include:

  • an interim injunction;
  • an interim declaration;
  • an order concerning relevant property, including to deal with it or to detain or preserve it;
  • an order to deliver up goods;
  • a freezing order;
  • a search order;
  • an order for interim payment; and
  • an order for interim costs.

The rules mentioned in 4.1 Interim Applications/Motions also provide for the summary disposal of proceedings, in whole or in part, by various means. These include the powers of the court to grant summary judgment on any issue or issues, or to strike out the whole or any part of a case.

Summary judgment and applications to strike out the whole or any part of another’s case are the primary dispositive motions used in the Belize High Court.

Previously, it was not unusual for interested parties not named as a claimant or defendant to join a lawsuit as an “interested party”. Belize’s Supreme Court Civil Procedure Rules permit the court to add, remove or substitute a party at the case management conference, upon application. The court also has the authority to do this of its own initiative.

However, this practice is coming under increasing scrutiny, primarily because of the management of additional costs considerations arising from the involvement of an additional party that might have no true lis in the proceedings. In those instances where the participation of an interested party is permitted, provision should be made for a proper delineation of the scope of that party’s involvement and the costs implications thereof.

A defendant may apply to court for an order that a claimant provides security for that defendant’s costs. These orders are perhaps most common where:

  • the claimant resides outside the jurisdiction;
  • the claimant has no assets or means within the jurisdiction to which the defendant might look to satisfy a court order; and
  • the claimant’s case against the defendant is not particularly strong.

In Civil Appeal No 26 of 2016 Fort Street Tourism Village v Suzanne Kilic, the Belize Court of Appeal held that a defendant must show that there is a real risk that there will be difficulty in enforcing an order for costs. Even if a claimant resides in a country that is included in the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments (Extension) Order, a defendant can still succeed in such an application if they can prove difficulty in enforcing a cost award. The manner of posting security includes the claimant’s payment of a specified sum into court in order to abide by the terms of any costs order that the court might ultimately make in the defendant’s favour.

The costs of interim applications can be ordered to be paid relative to the date on which that application is disposed of or at a later date, including by factoring the liability for those costs into the final costs order made at the end of the substantive claim.

Applications for interim relief generally require that the respondents to such applications have at least seven clear days’ notice of the hearing of that application. “Urgent” applications generally only require three clear days’ notice if brought to the attention of any other party.

As a jurisdiction that has adopted English common law, Belize has a process of discovery, which is referred to as disclosure. Litigation proceeding through its normal course in the Belize court is subject to the usual disclosure requirements.

The duty of disclosure is generally confined to the parties to the proceedings. Exceptionally, however, a court may order a third party to disclose information that is relevant to a claim involving parties other than that third party. These orders are of the Norwich Pharmacal/Bankers Trust type. In Belize, their primary use has been with respect to the unearthing of information in proceedings concerning international financial services. These orders are discretionary. To obtain them, one must generally satisfy the court that:

  • the applicant has suffered a wrong;
  • the applicant needs the information to commence a claim against the wrongdoer;
  • the respondent possesses the required information; and
  • in all the circumstances, it would be just for the court to order the respondent to come to the applicant’s aid by producing such information.

Bankers Trust type orders specifically are used mainly in tracing actions where an applicant has been unlawfully deprived of its property or property to which it has a legal entitlement.

Generally, parties will be under a duty to disclose all information and documents that are directly relevant to the claim, confirmed by an order for standard disclosure in the case. In simple terms, “directly relevant” means tending to either prove or disprove one’s case. This obligation to disclose all documents that are directly relevant is a continuing obligation on the parties. Otherwise, parties may be ordered to specifically disclose certain information by way of an order for “specific disclosure”. Parties wishing to rely on a document must disclose that document in the proceedings within which that party intends to use them.

Part 28 of Belize’s Civil Procedure Rules (2005) contains detailed rules governing the disclosure and inspection of documents.

Generally, the process of disclosure needs to be adhered to in order for documents to be relied on in a High Court civil trial. A party will not be able to rely upon a document at trial if they have failed to disclose that document pursuant to the court’s order for disclosure.

Alternatives to discovery include the use of interrogatories and notices to admit facts. Interrogatories are written questions put to a party, which must be answered by affidavit. A notice to admit facts requires a party to admit the facts or part of the serving party’s case outlined in the notice.

A party may claim privilege in the disclosure process and withhold documents from disclosure or inspection on that basis. Legal professional privilege covering certain correspondence between attorney and client features prominently in this area. A party lawfully possessing that privilege may also waive that privilege of their own volition. Communications with in-house counsel qualify equally, provided that the nature of such documents supports the privilege being claimed.

A person may apply to the High Court, without notice, for an order permitting that person not to disclose the existence of a document on the ground that disclosure of the existence of the document would damage the public interest.

Belize law provides for the granting of injunctive relief. These orders are discretionary, and include injunctions of various types, including prohibitory injunctions, mandatory injunctions, freezing orders and anti-suit injunctions.

As mentioned in 4.7 Application/Motion Timeframe, in the case of applications for interim relief generally, Belize’s procedural rules provide for the hearing of applications on an urgent basis, including on a without notice basis. In appropriate circumstances, the hearing of urgent applications brought without notice is constrained only by the availability of the High Court. These applications have been known to be heard within as little as a day or two.

Injunctive relief can be obtained without notice to the respondent in exceptional circumstances. It is for the applicant to assert and persuade the court that the case is appropriate for not giving the respondent notice of the application, such as in cases of extreme urgency. When seeking injunctive relief on an ex parte basis, the applicant has a duty of full and frank disclosure. Under this duty, the applicant must fully and accurately disclose all material facts to the court.

An applicant for injunctive relief is generally required to give an undertaking as to any damages that another party may suffer on account of any injunction obtained by them. That applicant should also demonstrate that they can make good on that undertaking if called upon to do so. In Civil Appeal No 3 of 2022 Dykgraaf et al v Rodriguez, the Court of Appeal emphasised the significance of the undertaking in damages, particularly when the respondent ultimately succeeds and becomes eligible for damages.

An affected party may equally apply to court for an order for the applicant to fortify such an undertaking, especially where sufficient evidence is produced to raise doubts about the applicant’s ability to satisfy that undertaking if called upon to do so.

Injunctive relief is often broadly worded. Freezing orders can be stated to apply to worldwide assets by the terms of such orders.

Injunctive relief orders are not only generally stated to apply to the respondent directly but also seek to enjoin the respondent from breaching the terms of the order by acting through third parties such as employees, successors, agents and/or assignees.

Injunctions will generally include a “penal notice”, which warns persons on whom it is served that they may be liable to be committed to prison, to be fined or to have their assets seized if they fail to comply with the terms of that order since they may be held in contempt of court. The court’s authority to punish civil contempt is granted by Section 109 of the Senior Courts Act, 2022. The applicant has the burden to prove that a committal order is warranted and that there has been compliance with the procedural requirements to bring the application for committal.

Trials are a combination of leading evidence and presenting arguments, both of which are presented in a mix of oral and written forms. The evidence in interim applications is generally presented by affidavit. Expert evidence may be presented in the form of an expert’s report; an expert may also produce a witness statement in proceedings.

Cross-examination of witnesses is common, but is less common in matters such as judicial review or the hearing of many interim applications.

As noted in 1.3 Court Filings and Proceedings, trials are primarily conducted in person. However, Section 186 of the Senior Courts Act, 2022 permits virtual hearings or trials in the High Court.

Case management hearings are the primary mode through which the court actively manages its cases. These hearings are usually held before a High Court judge. They are generally treated as hearings in chamber, except that the court has the power to consider and dispose of fairly substantial matters at a case management hearing. Mainly, these hearings are used by the court to give its directions as to how a case is managed until it is determined.

Belize law recognises the notion of jury trials in very limited civil cases. However, this is seldom used in practice, if ever.

The best kind of evidence in most cases will be evidence that is based on the witness’s first-hand perception, involvement or experience. Hearsay evidence is inadmissible in both criminal and civil trials.

In addition, parties’ oral or written communications that have been communicated in a genuine attempt to settle litigation tend to attract “without prejudice” privilege. At common law, the privilege against self-incrimination is also protected.

Expert evidence can only be used by parties with the court’s permission. Once called, an expert is obliged to acknowledge that their first duty is to the court and not to any particular party at whose behest they might be called, and to act accordingly.

Under Section 23 of the Senior Courts Act, 2022, the court has the authority to obtain support from accountants, actuaries or scientific experts whenever it deems it necessary to resolve any dispute or matter before the court. The court also has the option to refer any accounting-related questions to an accountant for further investigation and report. In such cases, the court may permit the payment of reasonable fees and expenses to these professionals, either by the involved parties or by assessing them as costs in the relevant cause or matter.

As stated in 1. General, court proceedings are generally considered open to the public, with the exception of certain matters that are considered particularly sensitive. The trial of sexual offences, matters concerning the welfare of families and matters involving minors are generally kept private and tried in camera.

A judge is permitted to intervene during a hearing or trial to the extent that they do not unfairly prejudice either side of the litigation by doing so. The judge is required to be an independent and fair arbiter on the trial of disputes. Judges should perform that function without “descending into the arena” of the litigation between the parties.

It is open to judges to reach their decisions at their first opportunity, including immediately upon the conclusion of a trial. A judge is also permitted to reserve their decision on a case for a reasonable time to allow for the necessary deliberation. It is fair to say that, generally, the more complex a matter, the greater the chance of a judge reserving their decision to a later date.

A fair estimate of the time for disposal of an average claim from commencement through to trial in Belize’s High Court would be between nine and 18 months.

The settlement of disputes is strongly encouraged by Belize’s court system. Belize’s procedural rules incorporate the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. There is a system of court-connected mediation legally in place, including a roster of qualified mediators. Parties are not required to seek the court’s approval of the terms of a settlement except in rare cases, such as those involving a minor or an individual deemed legally not competent because of disability or diminished capacity.

Parties have the option to keep the settlement of a lawsuit confidential. They may do so, among other ways, by using an appropriate form of Tomlin Order, the effect of which may be to expressly reserve the parties’ ability to apply to court to enforce the terms of their settlement while keeping the terms of settlement confidential until then, if the disclosure of those terms is indeed proved necessary.

A settlement agreement entered into on its own without being incorporated into an order of the court is generally enforced by suing upon that agreement for its specific performance and damages or both.

Settlement agreements may be challenged on normal contractual bases, such as illegality.

Belize law recognises most, if not all, forms of relief known to English common law. These include:

  • orders for the payment of damages;
  • orders for specific performance;
  • permanent injunctions;
  • orders for a party to account;
  • orders for the delivery of goods or property;
  • declarations of legal rights and obligations; and
  • prerogative remedies in judicial review and administrative law claims.

Exemplary or aggravated damages are available in special cases, mostly in constitutional or public law claims. In contract, the award of damages where their amount is expressly specified in the contract is subject to the unenforceability of sums found to constitute a penalty.

Pre-judgment and post-judgment interest are available. Pre-judgment interest for the recovery of any debt or damages is discretionary. In contrast, all judgment debts carry interest at the rate of 6% per annum from the time the judgment is entered until it is satisfied, as per Section 176 of the Senior Courts Act, 2022.

A domestic judgment is enforceable by applying to court for orders for its enforcement, including writs of fieri facias and orders attaching a judgment to the debtor’s property or to any reachable stream of a debtor’s income.

A money judgment that is final and conclusive and made upon the merits of the case may be enforced in Belize by a process of registration under the Reciprocal Enforcement of Judgments Act if it so qualifies. The Act applies to qualifying judgments emanating from the courts of England and Wales and from those of certain Commonwealth countries. Outside the provisions of that legislation, certain money judgments of a similar nature may be enforced in Belize by commencing suit de novo upon the judgment as a bare contract debt.

Although more onerous than the simplified process of registration, such suits may also prove relatively simplified in appropriate cases. For instance, a claimant may proceed straight to obtaining summary judgment in such an action where the matter is undefended in the Belize court or where, doing their best, the defendant is only able to produce a weak defence.

Belize has a tiered hierarchical court system, and litigants may appeal the decisions of lower courts to the next highest court in the hierarchy. The highest and final appellate court is the Caribbean Court of Justice. Interestingly, that court also serves the dual purpose of being the court of original jurisdiction for matters arising under the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the treaty constituting the Caribbean Community Regional Block (CARICOM), of which Belize is a member.

Litigants may appeal either as of right or with the court’s permission. For example, most “final” orders of the High Court are appealable as of right. The appeal of some “interlocutory” High Court orders requires the prior permission of the court. The circumstances in which a court will grant an applicant leave to appeal an interlocutory order were set out in Action No 114 of 1988 James Wang v Atlantic Insurance Co Ltd as follows:

  • where there is a prima facie case that an error has been made;
  • where the question is one of general principle, decided for the first time; and
  • where the question is one of importance upon which further argument and a decision of the Court of Appeal would be to the public advantage.

In Civil Appeal No 23 of 28 Belize Telemedia Limited v The Attorney General et al, the Court of Appeal stated additional considerations that arise in appeals from interlocutory orders, including that:

  • the point may not be of sufficient significance to justify the costs of an appeal;
  • the procedural consequences of an appeal (eg, loss of trial date) may outweigh the significance of the interlocutory issue; and
  • it may be more convenient to determine the point at or after the trial – in all such cases, leave to appeal should be refused.

Where permission is required, the intended appellant applies first to the High Court (being the trial court or court of first instance). If the High Court refuses that application for permission, the intended appellant may then apply directly to the Court of Appeal for permission.

A party appeals a decision of the High Court by filing and serving a Notice of Appeal. They must do so within 21 days of the date of perfection of the court order being appealed.

Appeals are mostly confined to considering matters of law. Appellate courts will generally defer to the decisions of lower courts on matters of fact and matters concerning the exercise of a discretionary power by a trial judge, except where those decisions or orders are demonstrably “aberrant”. Appeals under Belize’s appellate system would be most fairly classified as exercises of review, not rehearing.

The court has the power to make various orders on granting an appeal. These include powers to confirm, vary, amend or set aside the order or make any such order as the High Court might have made, or to make any order which ought to have been made, and to make such further or other orders as the case may require. The court may make any order on such terms as the court thinks just to ensure the determination on the merits of the real question in controversy between the parties.

After hearing an appeal, the Court of Appeal may do any of several things. It may, for example, quash the decision of the lower court and either order a retrial of the matter or substitute its own finding for that of the lower court.

As between attorney and client, a client will be responsible to pay their attorney’s charges for handling litigation on the client’s behalf. As between party and party, a court may make an order as to which party is to pay the costs of court proceedings. The general rule on costs is that costs follow the event, so an unsuccessful party will generally be ordered to pay the successful party’s costs.

Generally, costs are awarded to a successful party. In awarding costs, the court must consider a party’s:

  • conduct before and during the proceedings;
  • success on particular issues, even if the party has not succeeded in the entire proceedings;
  • reasonableness in pursuing particular allegations;
  • reasonableness in raising particular issues; and
  • conduct in pursuit of the case, allegation or issue.

A court may order that the amount of costs is based on the amount prescribed by Belize’s procedural rules. Alternatively, a court may order that the costs of a claim are assessed by the court. Cost orders are also appealable.

As noted in 9.3 Pre-judgment and Post-judgment Interest, interest is usually payable at the rate of 6% on every judgment debt. A judgment debt includes that portion of the debt arising from the order for payment of costs in those proceedings.

As previously mentioned, in 1.4 Legal Representation in Court, 3.1 Rules on Pre-action Conduct and 8.1 Court Approval, there is a growing culture of using ADR mechanisms in Belize. Lower costs, simplified processes and quicker results are all factors motivating parties to approach ADR with increasing openness and acceptance.

A court may refer a claim to court-connected mediation even if the parties do not consent. There is also a system of court-connected arbitration.

As mentioned briefly in 8.1 Court Approval, there is a roster of mediators comprised of trained mediators, who are primarily available to serve as mediators in court-connected mediations. There is also a roster of arbitrators comprised of trained arbitrators, who are primarily available to serve as arbitrators for the purposes of court-connected arbitrations.

Belize’s Arbitration Act, Chapter 125 of the Laws of Belize (revised edition 2020), generally governs the conduct of arbitration and the enforcement of arbitral awards in Belize. The Arbitration Act governs local awards under the Geneva Protocol (1923), foreign awards and the enforcement of awards pursuant to the New York Convention (on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards 1973).

The arbitral procedure, including the composition of the arbitral tribunal, is generally governed by the will of the parties to the arbitration.

A considerable range of matters are arbitrable in Belize, especially commercial matters. Non-arbitrable matters include those over which the Belize court enjoys exclusive jurisdiction, such as:

  • criminal matters;
  • tax matters;
  • constitutional matters;
  • public law matters, including those founded in administrative law;
  • matters concerning the rectification of title to real property;
  • patent matters;
  • copyright licensing matters;
  • divorce matters; and
  • matters concerning the adoption and custody of children.

A particular subject matter may also be determined to be non-arbitrable if the rules chosen by the parties to govern the conduct of their arbitration do not provide for the arbitration of that particular subject matter.

In respect of local awards, the Arbitration Act provides that the court may remove arbitrators or umpires who misconduct themselves. Furthermore, where an arbitration or award has been improperly procured, the court may set the award aside.

A foreign award shall not be enforceable under the act if the court dealing with the case is satisfied that:

  • the award has been annulled in the country in which it was made;
  • the party against whom the enforcement of the award is sought was not given notice of the arbitration proceedings in sufficient time to enable them to present their case, or was under some legal incapacity and was not properly represented; or
  • the award does not deal with all the questions referred or contains decisions on matters that are beyond the scope of the agreement for arbitration, provided that, if the award does not deal with all the questions referred, the court may, if it thinks fit, either postpone the enforcement of the award or order its enforcement subject to the giving of such security by the person seeking to enforce it as the court may think fit.

In addition, a court may refuse to enforce a foreign award if it considers that the award:

  • has not been made in pursuance of an agreement for arbitration that was valid under the law by which it was governed;
  • has not been made by the tribunal provided for in the agreement or constituted in a manner agreed upon by the parties; or
  • has not been made in conformity with the law governing the arbitration procedure.

Generally, a “local” or domestic award may, by leave of the High Court, be enforced in the same manner as a judgment or order to the same effect. A foreign award is enforceable in Belize either by action or in the same way as one would enforce a domestic award. Specifically, a foreign award may likewise be enforced, by leave of the court, in the same manner as a judgment or order to the same effect.

Enforcing Foreign Awards

In order for a foreign award to be enforceable under the Arbitration Act, it must have:

  • been made in pursuance of an agreement for arbitration that was valid under the law by which it was governed;
  • been made by the tribunal provided for in the agreement or constituted in a manner agreed upon by the parties;
  • been made in conformity with the law governing the arbitration procedure;
  • become final in the country in which it was made; and
  • been made in respect of a matter that may lawfully be referred to arbitration under the law of Belize, and the enforcement thereof must not be contrary to public policy or the law of Belize.

The party seeking to enforce a foreign award must produce:

  • the original award or a copy thereof duly authenticated in the manner required by the law of the country in which it was made;
  • evidence proving that the award has become final; and
  • such evidence as may be necessary to prove that the award is a foreign award and that the conditions mentioned above are satisfied.

Convention Awards

Convention awards may, by leave of the High Court, be enforced in the same manner as a judgment or order to the same effect. Enforcement of a Convention award may be refused if the person against whom it is invoked proves that:

  • a party to the arbitration agreement was (under the law applicable to them) under some incapacity;
  • the arbitration agreement was not valid under the law to which the parties subjected it or, failing any indication of this, under the law of the country where the award was made;
  • they were not given proper notice of the appointment of the arbitrator or of the arbitration proceedings, or were otherwise unable to present their case;
  • the award deals with a difference not contemplated by or not falling within the terms of the submission to arbitration, or contains decisions on matters beyond the scope of the submission to arbitration;
  • the composition of the arbitral authority or the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties or, failing such agreement, with the law of the country where the arbitration took place; or
  • the award has not yet become binding on the parties, or has been set aside or suspended by a competent authority of the country in which, or under the law of which, it was made.

Enforcement of a Convention award may also be refused if the award is in respect of a matter that is not capable of settlement by arbitration, or if it would be contrary to public policy to enforce the award.

There are no current proposals for any dispute resolution reform. However, the Essential Services Arbitration Tribunal has recently been reconvened to settle trade disputes related to essential services, in accordance with the Settlement of Disputes (Essential Services) Act, 2020. The act may apply to various essential services, such as:

  • electricity services;
  • health services;
  • hospital services;
  • monetary and financial services;
  • telecommunication services;
  • telephone services;
  • water services; and
  • postal services.
Barrow and Williams LLP

Equity House
84 Albert Street
P.O. Box 617
Belize City

+501 227 5280

+501 227 5278
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Law and Practice


Barrow and Williams LLP is a seven-member firm based in Belize City, established in 1989 by its founding partners, Rodwell Williams, SC and Dean Barrow, SC. Its litigation practice spans both trial and appellate work across the spectrum of Belize’s court system. Commercial litigation is an area of particular focus but the firm is active in civil litigation generally. It represents major banks, utility companies, hotels and hospitality outfits, insurance companies, real estate businesses, and other local and international businesses. Key practice areas include admiralty matters, asset tracing and recovery, banking and financial disputes, contractual disputes, defamation and libel, economic torts, estate matters, tax disputes and utility regulation issues.

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