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Judicial review on appointment of Comptroller of Customs may go ahead, Court rules

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Posted: Wednesday, February 10, 2021. 8:12 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case for judicial review on the part of deputy Comptroller of Customs, Ian Haylock, against his colleague, Estelle Leslie, and the Government of Belize.

Justice Westmin James ruled on Tuesday that Haylock has a “justiciable case” on two points: one, that Prime Minister John Briceno failed to conduct proper consultations with the Public Services Commission (PSC) before he advised the Governor-General to appoint Estelle Leslie as Comptroller; and another. However, the judge refused an injunction to essentially leave the post vacant.

Haylock is represented by attorneys Darrell Bradley and Senior Counsel Dean Barrow, while Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck represents Leslie as an interested party and Assistant Solicitor General Samantha Matute-Tucker represented the Government.

It appears that neither side, from their press comments, was surprised by the ruling; both were satisfied with it for different reasons.

As the Prime Minister told reporters following Cabinet’s meeting in Belize City on Tuesday evening, it means Leslie remains in the post for the time being; the next steps would be discussed with Attorney General Magali Marin-Young and Senior Counsel Marshalleck.

He defended his course of action, saying that with time running upon him before the scheduled retirement of Colin Griffith on December 29, it was necessary to move the change in position from Section 106 (governed by the PSC) to Section 107 (governed by the Governor-General) of the Constitution concerning the appointment.

But Bradley pressed the point that “genuine, substantive” consultation by the Prime Minister was not achieved, with the PSC, according to chairman Charles Gibson, not getting the letter when it was sent on Christmas Eve, December 24 (the Government is embroiled in a dispute with the Commission on whether it should stand down and new members be appointed). He also dismissed suggestions that the claim was academic because the very spirit of the rule would have been violated if the court finds that such consultation was not achieved.

Marshalleck, on the other hand, contends that consultation can continue, but not as to Leslie’s appointment; rather it is as to the legalities of switching who recommends such appointments – the Public Service Commission or the Governor-General, both on the advice of the Prime Minister. He added that if it comes down to seniority in the Department, both Leslie and Haylock have served roughly the same amount of time, so she has as much of a claim to the top job as he does. (Leslie, assuming her appointment survives, is the first female appointed Comptroller of Customs).

The case will be heard expeditiously on March 26.

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