By Aaron Humes: Within 48 hours, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin will make what has been described as the most important decision Belize has ever been called to make.That describes both the upcoming ICJ referendum and a decision to potentially postpone it.
Senior Counsel and Senator Eamon Courtenay appears for five fellow parliamentarians and a sixth, Anthony Mahler, who aspires to join them. Courtenay argued that his clients are not asking the court to rule on the constitutionality of the Special Agreement which it is argued binds Belize to a referendum process which is not binding domestically.
But Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman, supported by Professor Westmin James of the University of the West Indies, says his watchword of ‘better to be safe than sorry’ works both ways. He says the referendum carries urgent legal uncertainty that denies his clients a say; she says her clients carry the greater risk as a postponement after nearly a year of preparation will carry significant financial loss as well as a lengthy delay due to upcoming elections in both countries.
Courtenay pointed out that the writs of referenda issued by Governor General Sir Colville Young at the request of Prime Minister Dean Barrow speak of a decision on a ‘proposed settlement of the claim’ whereas James spoke of an ICJ trip as a border dispute settlement mechanism to be approved.
Shoman and James jabbed at the procedure by the other side suggesting that they really wanted judicial review and not a constitutional challenge. But they argued that the court is in any event not the proper arbiter for such matters.
After court PUP leader John Briceño paid tribute to the assembly of an estimated 1,000 persons gathered in the Battlefield Park for much of the afternoon, saying they deserved to be listened to.