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Apr 19, 2018

Trouble in the Judiciary? D.P.P. Is Thrown Out of JLSC Meeting

Cheryl-Lynn Vidal

There is another issue to add to the mounting troubles in the judiciary.  Last February, the Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryl-Lynn Vidal was elevated from vice president to President of the Bar Association. Her election was uncontested; it was a first for Belize, and as we understand, for the rest of the Caribbean region. Wearing her hat as president of the Bar, she was invited and headed to a meeting of the Judicial Legal Services Commission on March twenty-first. But on arrival, the Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin who presides, asked the D.P.P. to withdraw from the meeting on the basis that there is a question on whether the D.P.P. can be a member of the Commission since she is a public officer.   The Bar Executive has since written to the JLSC, on April nineteenth, asking for a reason for the request to her to leave the meeting as well as for the JLSC’s position. A written answer has not been provided. There are four persons who sit on the JLSC. In addition to the Chief Justice and the D.P.P., other members are the Solicitor General and the Chair of the Public Services Commission. There are critical issues facing the judiciary, such as a shortage of magistrates in the court system, a backlog of judgements to deliver and the matter of a serious charge against a magistrate.  Now, the Bar is seeking a response on the unprecedented request by the CJ. And as has been reported relations between the Bar and the CJ have not always been at optimum level. When we reached out, the Bar Executive confirmed that an issue has arisen and it has written to the JLSC. At the time of her election, the Attorney General told News Five that there was no conflict and threw his support behind her.

 

Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General

“I did jokingly ask her if she didn’t have enough work to do, but she is a lawyer; the Bar Association is an association of lawyers [and] we are free to associate. If in her spare time, she wants to dedicate some of that time to the bar Association then there can be absolutely no difficulty with that, in my view. I don’t think that she is the type of person who would take time from the job that she is getting paid to do to spend time for the further purposes of an association. I fully expect, given her work ethic, for her to do the work as D.P.P. and at the same time dedicate her own personal time to the association. I don’t see any conflict with it either in terms of a government employee being a member of a private association because the Bar Association, there is no longer a mandatory requirement for you to belong to that association. I don’t see any difficulty with that.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“So fundamentally if the position of the private association were to conflict with the position of the government, wouldn’t that place her in a precarious situation, so to speak?”

 

Michael Peyrefitte

“Well you have to understand what kind of conflict, because you have to remember, while the D.P.P. is paid from the public purse, the D.P.P. is a completely independent constitutionally created office. The D.P.P. does not work for the government. Anybody who is being paid by the government has to fall under some umbrella, some aegis and the D.P.P. just happens to fall under the Attorney General. However, within her office, administratively, we have some say over the office, but who she decides to prosecution or not prosecute; how she handles her case son the merits or demerits that is totally within her province and in that sense, she does not work for the government.”

 

This evening at least two senior counsels disputed the CJ’s interpretation of the section he may be seeking to rely on.

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