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May 17, 2017

Is Elvin Penner on Thin Ice After Testimony in Inquiry?

Aldo Salazar

The saying goes that a man who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a client. In the case of former minister Elvin Penner, he claims to have gotten legal advice. But his legal adviser was not present at either of his appearances before the Senate Committee. Two members of the Committee – Chairman Aldo Salazar and Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay – have between them decades of experience in the practice of the law, and try though they might to help Penner along, they could not get him to budge from claiming rights he either misunderstood or had no right to. Both believe that Penner should have gotten his ‘legal eagle’ to come to Belmopan – and as regards his testimony, Courtenay went so far as to say he should be worrying tonight.

 

Aldo Salazar, Chair, Senate Special Select Committee

“I believe that anybody who is put in situations such as this is handicapped by not having legal representation; and that’s not just a plug for my fraternity, but I think it would have been useful. I feel that it is clear that there was some legal intervention; I don’t know if the public really understands the technicalities that we have been tasked with him; I was trying to be fair to him, as I have to any other witness who has come before us, to say, you know, you are exposed to this, etcetera. I hold the firm view that you cannot simply refuse to answer in totality. The Constitution does not guarantee that; I don’t know anywhere in the laws of Belize that allow you to do that.  I don’t know that’s it’s perjury – perjury is a different matter. Perjury is when you lie on oath; refusing to answer is not perjury, but it’s another offence in the same Legislative Powers and Privileges Act. The question is whether the Committee will review it – yes, the Committee is going to review everything that goes before it.”

 

Reporter

“Can a witness be compelled to bring an attorney along with them, that might have helped…”

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator

“No, no. they can’t be compelled to bring their attorney. But I think as the Chairman said, it would have been advisable if Mr. Penner brought his attorney because it’s clear he’s getting legal advice so that we could have – for example, him saying, there is a provision in the Constitution that tells me that I don’t have to answer the question. Clearly an attorney has told him that, and the attorney would have been there, and we would have said, where is it? Mr. Penner was put on the spot and understandably, obviously, we can’t expect him to know where that is, but his attorney should have been here to point out where it is, because there is no such thing. So nobody can force him to bring an attorney, but it would have made the proceedings a lot smoother.  The decision of the Committee is to refer the transcript of his evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions; we will await what the Director of Public Prosecutions will decide. If I were advising Mr. Penner, I would be very concerned.”

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