Posted: Wednesday, April 3, 2019. 8:15 pm CST.
By BBN Staff: Rarely have they been adversaries, but Senior Counsels Eamon Courtenay and Lisa Shoman both seemed to find positives after today’s decision by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin to halt the upcoming April tenth referendum on sending the Belize-Guatemala dispute for adjudication to the International Court of Justice.
The Chief Justice found for Courtenay and his clients – parliamentarians Michael Espat, Oscar Requena, Cordel Hyde, Julius Espat, and Rodwell Ferguson, and standard bearer Anthony Mahler – on the question of a case to be argued on the legality of the procedure under which the Government launched the referendum.
The writs of referendum issued at the end of February by Governor General Sir Colville Young refer to Section 2 (1) (d), providing for approval of a “proposed settlement” with Guatemala. Courtenay argued that the mechanism of going to the ICJ is not provided for in the Act.
Courtenay went on to allege that a resolution for a referendum under Section 2 (1) (a) in the National Assembly, on the basis of national importance, carries risks for Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who is said to have difficulty rallying his side to support such a resolution.
Pending the Government’s potential arguments, Courtenay called Shoman’s request to vary the order only applied to Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai – that the referendum go ahead but the results not be certified until the case is heard – “strange” and “bizarre” and an apparent ploy to push through the referendum despite their loss today. He contends that the court’s ruling should be respected.
In reply, Shoman claimed a win in the Chief Justice’s determination that there is no serious issue to be tried in whether the Executive had proper powers to enter the Special Agreement and ratification in the Senate, and any issues on the powers of the ICJ, pending a yes vote, to force a change in Belize’s Constitution regarding our boundaries.
And the other side’s victory, she said, is only temporary as the question of the writs is “a rather technical view” and should not postpone the referendum longer than necessary, even on April tenth itself.
The Government also, as Chief Justice Benjamin noted, has recourse to the Court of Appeal, some of whose members are in Belize and on stand-by for a potential appeal.
Courtenay hailed the historic scale of the win, paying tribute to attorneys Anthony Sylvestre (the party’s legal counsel), Richard “Dickie” Bradley and Kareem Musa among others who put together the case for argument.
Of his clients, Courtenay said, “I think they are true democrats. These are people who have said in the evidence that they want a referendum to be held, but they want it to be held legally and after a proper education campaign. So all in all, I think it is an extremely important constitutional case; it is important for democracy, it is important for politics in Belize, and most importantly, it is important for Belize and its future.”
Party Leader John Briceño paid his own tribute, describing it is as “a team effort… it also required members of the House that were prepared to stand up – people like Mike Espat, who says he feels aggrieved by the Government, and Oscar, Cordel, Julius, Rodwell, Anthony – all of them; who said they are going to stand up to defend democracy because it is about democracy and about respect.”
Briceno pointed out that the UDP’s route is illegal and devoid of certainty, and that the PUP demands its respect as the Opposition for an open debate in the House of Representatives. Briceño also mentioned the Government’s efforts to deny Belizeans living abroad a chance to vote.
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