Saturday, March 28, 2015. AARON HUMES Reporting: Former president of the Bar Association of Belize, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, was widely quoted in his speech at the ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court in January as openly criticizing the Court of Appeal on its recent performance, citing the October-November 2014 session as hearing no criminal appeals and a “record low” number of civil appeals. It even prompted Attorney General Wilfred Elrington to take the concerns to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who advises the Governor General on court appointments, over the threat of “drastic and dramatic” further action by the Bar Association.
But the backlash came fast and hard today from the President of the Court, Justice Manuel Sosa, who spent nearly an hour before delivering judgments lambasting the remarks, which he called “hostile, scathing…grossly unfair.” He said that the court was entitled to an apology from “those responsible for presenting an incomplete picture” of the Court’s work in that session but that he would not hold his breath for one.
So how does the President explain why five criminal appeals went unheard? In three of the cases – those of Winston Dennison, Lloyd Elijio and Leslie Frazer – the appellants appeared unrepresented by legal counsel and expressed interest in trying to find one to hear the cases, and so asked that they be traversed to the next session of the Court, with no objection from the Crown.
The case of Jorge Vidal was not heard as it appeared that the respondent, Vidal, accused of murder, was not served notice to come to court. The final case, that of Akeem Thurton, was asked to be put off as well by counsel Bryan Neal. All five cases were disposed of in the current session of the Court. President Sosa said, “We shall not allow ourselves to be bullied into becoming a kangaroo court which denies traversals to appellants,” stating that with these circumstances the court was obligated to stand down the cases until the situations of each appellant changed.
As for civil cases, Justice Sosa recalled that in his first term in the Court of Appeal in 1999, just two civil appeals were heard from a total of eight filed, less than the four out of eight heard in the last session. Of the remaining four two were settled out of court, another could not be heard as the court could not establish quorum and another did not proceed due to absence of a complete record of appeal. So while Courtenay’s comments are “totally untrue,” are they also in contempt of court? The President said he hoped that the issue would be considered by the Executive Branch, but for now he is more concerned with the broader issues of unfairness and irresponsibility occasioned by the comments.
Courtenay declined comment to reporters as he left court.
In related news, the Court today bid farewell to long-standing jurist Justice Dennis Morrison of Jamaica, who served just shy of 11 years on the bench since 2004 after more than three decades in practice.
Justice Morrison in his final address to the court said he had not expected to become a judge but believes the chance to succeed countryman Ira Rowe on the Belize Court changed his life, even as it made it more hectic by having to balance his court appearances here with work back home in Jamaica.
He asked members of the Bar present to consider improving continuing legal education, law reform and take a leading role in providing legal aid, stating that it was a “continuing scandal” that many prisoners do not have legal representation at trial.
It is a professional obligation, he told his colleagues, to provide ‘equality of arms’ before the law in criminal matters.
Justice Morrison also serves on Jamaica’s Court of Appeal and was a long-time professor at the Norman Manley Law School where he taught many Belizean law students.
Today he was honored in addresses from senior Bar member Derek Courtenay and President of the Bar Association of Belize Jacqueline Marshalleck, who praised his attention to detail in judgments and personal interaction with members of the Belize Bar.
Justice Morrison said he considers himself as much Belizean as Jamaican after ten years here and reported that he is looking for property for a permanent residence in the Jewel.
The other members of the court are Justices Christopher Blackman, Minnet Hafiz-Bertram and Samuel Awich, who gave the court’s official remarks on Morrison’s departure.
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