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Prime Minister on Chief Justice post: Acting C.J. did not apply; process was ‘open and transparent’

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Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2022. 11:00 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: Prime Minister John Briceño has echoed the remarks of the Attorney General as to why Acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana was not considered to continue.

Not only did she not apply for the post for her own reasons, he stated, but she was never guaranteed to be elevated fully after the departure of Kenneth Benjamin in March of 2020: “I don’t know how you could have come to that conclusion, that because someone acts for a position that they would automatically get that position.”

The post was advertised widely with the understanding that the new appointee would be presiding over a restructured justice system that combines the administration of both the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal into a single High Court, though the appellate process would remain in place, in order to be “more effective and efficient” per the Prime Minister.

“The Attorney General set up a team for her peers from the Bar Association to interview all those that applied. As I was told, eight [people] applied. For one reason or the other, Acting Justice Arana did not apply. So, the Bar could only interview those that applied. If Acting Justice Arana would have applied, she would have gone through the very same process. When that process finished, that is when the Attorney General came to me and said this is the recommendation that was made by the Bar,” the Prime Minister continued.

By law, the Prime Minister is obliged to consult with the Leader of the Opposition on the appointment but does not need his consent. Moses “Shyne” Barrow has opposed the appointment and believes Justice Arana, appointed Belize’s first female Justice in the court some 15 years ago, should be elevated.

The Prime Minister further emphasized that there was and is no political interference in the decision, as he charged the other side with doing during their time in government: “We know in the previous government there was a lot of political interference into the court system. We promised we are not going to do that, and we are keeping to our word.”

On the suggestion that Justice Arana could be headed to the Court of Appeal, the Prime Minister said that there wasn’t an offer made but that she was interested and he was recommended to make the appointment: “I don’t think that it is a matter of an offer. There are openings in the Court of Appeal and she expressed interest in the Court of Appeal. As far as I know, I never had any such discussion with Justice Arana. The recommendation was made about her going to the Court of Appeal and I accepted that recommendation.”

If the report is accurate, Justice Arana would become the latest member of the Supreme Court to move to the Court of Appeal, but on the reorganized justicial ladder would still be subordinate to projected appointee Louise Blenman, even if she were appointed President of that Court. Former justice Minnet Hafiz-Bertram is acting as President of the Court of Appeal at the moment.

 

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