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Private law firms and Government business – the political wrangle continues

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Posted: Friday, June 3, 2022. 9:07 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Earlier this week, Lead Opposition Senator Michael Peyrefitte wrote to Prime Minister John Briceño under the Freedom of Information Act, requesting a copy of the document in which Governor General Froyla Tzalam was informed that the government was retaining the legal services of Courtenay Coye LLP. 

The named partners of that firm are Senior Counsel and Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Eamon Courtenay and law partner Christopher Coye, Minister of State for Finance, though neither are practicing at the moment.

Peyrefitte told reporters earlier this week that the firm’s name “kept appearing on court papers representing the government and from what we’ve heard they’re also representing the government with matters that don’t go to court.”

The Prime Minister in partial reply noted that the Governor-General, Dame Froyla Tzalam, has permitted the representation and Peyrefitte wants this document on the record, as well as an accounting of what they have been paid. Also, he wants to know which other ministers have written to the Governor General to ask permission for their firms and businesses to be contracted by the government.

In response, the P.M. said on Thursday that they would make the disclosure for Courtenay Coye but was not aware of any other firms such as, for instance, Barrow and Company at which Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck is a senior partner.

The other part of the question is what happens to counsel in the Attorney General’s Ministry which theoretically are supposed to be fighting cases on the Government’s behalf. The Prime Minister and others have publicly lamented that this young and eager group of attorneys must face very senior counsel including the former Prime Minister, which puts them at a disadvantage.

It’s caused a kerfuffle at that Ministry and with others but the P.M. stuck to his guns in a latest television interview: “As I said, it’s not a matter that there’s any agreement, it is, and I’ll just be brief on that because I’ve spoken about it already, it’s simply a matter that when we have many of these cases, that we need to be able to get more experienced attorneys that can help us with these cases. A lot of the cases that we have the attorneys that we have in the Attorney General’s Ministry, and it’s no disrespect to any of them, it’s just that we are dealing with some very senior attorneys that are bringing these cases against us so we have to make sure we can get the best possible defense to be able to defend the interest of Belizeans. We are going to make available the information as to what monies have been paid out…”

Of course, he also noted that in the previous administration, members of the Barrow family and other intimates did the same and did not disclose their fees and ties. Peyrefitte in reply said he would not be distracted and denied that any firm or company he was affiliated with collected any monies nor entered into any contract with the government.

As for former Prime Minister Barrow, he has made it clear according to Channel 7 News that his firm was never retained by the government of Belize. Additionally, he had no beneficial relationship with any family-connected firm that was retained.

Meanwhile, the Public Service Union (PSU) president Dean Flowers weighed in, saying that the years of study of counsel within the Attorney General’s Ministry appear not to be respected: “These are young people who come back with a lot of zeal, who simply want an opportunity to shine. And, instead of giving them that opportunity to grow, to shine, and to experience what it is like to be arguing in court, we keep them at that junior level, locked up in a room, so that we can then use that as an excuse their non-experience as an excuse to spend the Belizean money on our political law firms. The comments of the Prime Minister, claiming that the legal councils are no good is outright disrespectful, and again, unbecoming of the Prime Minister.”

Flowers opined that practice in the courts is the best way to gain experience and growth, but the opposite is often true – the high turnover rate at the Ministry is due to not gaining that experience and attorneys seeking bigger money and exposure at the private Bar.

 

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