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Court of Appeal declines intervention in ICJ referendum case

Posted: Monday, April 8, 2019. 6:22 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The chances of a referendum to resolve the ICJ debate dwindles even lower after the Court of Appeal declined this evening to hear urgently the Government’s case to reverse last Wednesday’s injunction.

The merits of the case was not considered; only the question of whether the Court could hear the urgent matter within 21 days, as prescribed by law, from the date of the interim injunction granted last Wednesday by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.

Also at issue was whether the Chief Elections Officer, Josephine Tamai, by virtue of her emailed order to subordinates on the evening of April 3, risked contempt of court by ordering that preparation for the referendum continue, the Court’s order notwithstanding.

On the first point, the Court, a panel of President Manuel Sosa and Justices Samuel Awich and Minnet Hafiz-Bertram, ruled for the respondents, five Opposition parliamentarians and a standard bearer. This has the effect of upholding the decision of the Chief Justice, putting the referendum date in serious jeopardy.

Said counsel for the assemblymen Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, “[Senior Counsel] Rodwell Williams attempted to try to get around the cases that had already been decided by this court. Insofar as this is concerned, what it says is that when you want to make an urgent application to the Court of Appeal, you must come another way. And it is not for me to advise them what the proper procedure should have been, but they came by the wrong route.”

Courtenay added that if the Government and particularly the Chief Election Officer was not careful, the “left hook” of the Chief Justice’s decision last week and the “uppercut” of today’s events could well be followed by a “knockout blow” at the Caribbean Court of Justice, whom he thinks they will not be able to convince to hear the matter basically within the next 24 hours.

CEO Tamai, Courtenay noted, was advised by the Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte to proceed, but depending on how far they went they could have approached contempt. Their affidavits insisted that they did not intend to disrespect or disobey the court and Courtenay says he takes that as something of an apology.

Opposition Leader John Briceno made note that the Government’s “ironclad case” had failed twice in a week, and now it was up to the Government to let go of the “magic” of April 10th and sit with the Opposition to determine a way forward. “Let’s hit the pause button, let’s sit down and talk with respect for one another, and let’s see how we can move this process forward,” he said.

And part of the Opposition’s demands are outlined in their “People’s Declaration,” including a way to enfranchise Belizeans living abroad, and amendments to the Referendum Act (to make the Referendum binding) and Representation of the People Act. Briceno says correcting the balance of the education campaign and amending the Maritime Areas Act to secure Belize’s maritime territory, among others, will take much more time than is available now but is necessary to reduce tempers and strain.

As for the original Constitutional challenge still sitting before the Supreme Court, adjourned this morning until next Monday, April 15 for direction, Courtenay says his clients intend to continue pursuing it.

“It is a question of the power of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, acting alone, to commit this country to this exercise. I believe that my clients intend to pursue that because it is vitally important. So I think that as the party leader said, the pause gives an opportunity for everybody to reflect on the legal framework as it exists today to see whether or not it is valid. If it is not, then it can be corrected; we don’t have to wait for a trial. the government can look at it and come up with a proper amendment to the Constitution and the relevant law for it to be done,” Courtenay explained.

Williams was joined by Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman and Solicitor General Elisa Montalvo.


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