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Government withdraws application against referendum injunction at Supreme Court

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Posted: Monday, April 29, 2019. 8:42 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: With 10 days to go before the May 8 referendum on settling the Belize-Guatemala claim at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), it appears it will go ahead despite, technically, an injunction being enforced by the Supreme Court.

This is because that injunction technically addresses instruments for a referendum to have been held on April 10, which did not go ahead; but the Court of Appeal has jurisdiction and is not presently prepared unless prodded to move forward.

According to Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman, when the Supreme Court last met on April 15, the claimants’ representative Kareem Musa, sitting in for Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, indicated that they needed more time to consider the issue.

As we reported earlier, Courtenay raised the jurisdictional matter and the Government called time to consider its options.

This afternoon Shoman said, “There were strong bases for being able to differentiate what the cases were saying from what the position is before the court. However, I have a duty and an obligation to consult with the defendants; I did so. And specifically because Mr. Courtenay stood up in court and said this morning that the claimants had no issue with the factual basis of what was contained in those affidavits, that the defendants decided – since really, what the bottom line is, is that it’s a moot point – that we would simply withdraw the application.”

In effect, says Shoman, this means the referendum moves ahead, as the Court of Appeal has already indicated it is not prepared to hear the matter before June. The claimants will, however, seek an expedited hearing.

As Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin reminded, Shoman noted, the issue is still live in respect of whatever the Court of Appeal – and perhaps the Caribbean Court of Justice – decide on the constitutionality of the Special Agreement, which he said is not a serious issue to be tried for various reasons. The new Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Act under which the May 8 referendum will be held does not take into account the outstanding Referendum Act.

So can the claimants get the upper court to hear them before next Wednesday? Courtenay says they will ask “at the earliest possible time.” He added, “There is no point in us, in my view, seeking to teach the Government yet again that they have embarked on a road that is fraught with failure. The Chief Justice said it to them on the third of April, the Court of Appeal said it to them, and I can only conclude that today when they threw in the towel, they understood that once again they were wrong.”

The PUP and Belizeans, Courtenay said, have repeatedly told the Government that they should have the referendum in a lawful way, with Belizeans fully informed and understanding of the issues, knowing that they cannot take it lightly. But “dark forces” may be behind the Government’s actions, he said, opining that only those “at crazy house” may understand what is happening.

Pending the result of the referendum or the Court of Appeal’s actions, or both, the Supreme Court will resume hearing the case on June 24 after submissions by both sides.

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