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Court of Appeal gets ICJ referendum injunction case

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Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2019. 6:43 pm CST.

Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2019. 6:37 p.m. CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Court of Appeal will be hearing the urgent matter of overturning an interim injunction granted on Wednesday by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin halting the referendum planned on April 10, 2019, on or by Monday.

Counsel for the five parliamentarians and one People’s United Party standard bearer who brought the case, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, said he has been informed and will be prepared to defend a hard-fought victory. The Court of Appeal can discharge the injunction and allow the referendum to go ahead, or uphold it and further postpone the referendum until the defect is corrected. 

In this instance, it is that the Writ of Referendum (formal written order) was not done properly as per the Referendum Act, in that it asked Belizeans to vote on a proposed settlement (the International Court of Justice’s eventual decision) rather than as a matter of national importance, which would require a resolution to be introduced and debated in the House of Representatives. 

This evening, the Government reiterated in a press release that the substantial point raised by the Opposition as to whether the 2008 Special Agreement was illegally and unconstitutionally approved, and risked changes to the Constitution if the ruling is adverse, was rejected by the Chief Justice. The form of the writ, it added, is a “technical point” that can be corrected if necessary.

The Government confirmed its intent to appeal the decision expeditiously so that the referendum can go ahead. It reiterated that the referendum at this point can only be delayed, not cancelled or deferred. Its ‘worst-case scenario,’ it said, is to go back to the House for the resolution, causing a six to eight week delay as the House is currently in recess. This would put the date of the referendum close to the end of May.

The United Democratic Party holds a nineteen to twelve majority in the House, but Orange Walk North area representative Gaspar Vega has been absent from multiple House meetings. The Opposition has intimated that Prime Minister Dean Barrow has members of his party who are not convinced about going to the International Court of Justice and may put the vote in jeopardy. In court, it was argued that the question directly asked in the Special Agreement is the one to be put to the people rather than any question about a proposed settlement of the claim.

 

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