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Apr 19, 2013

Court agrees with Bar and calls for security of tenure for judges

The Bar Association of Belize has won a landmark case against the government of Belize with wide ranging implications for judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal as well as the public at large. Today, Justice Oswell Legall ruled to overthrow government’s sixth amendment to the Constitution which effectively allowed the executive to determine the term of service of judges. The challenge was mounted by the Bar Association in 2010, with Justices Elliot Motley and C. Dennis Morrison as parties to the litigation, and though it is long in coming, the Bar Association says it is a vindication of the Association’s long held belief that judges must have security of tenure. Freelance reporter Mike Rudon sat down with two of the attorneys for the Bar Association today and got the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The sixth amendment to sections fifteen and sixteen of the Constitution asserted firstly that if no term of service was specified in the instrument of appointment of a judge, his term would then be seen to be one year; secondly, that any appointment of a judge after the amendment would be seen as a one year appointment and thirdly, it allowed government to appoint a judge without stating a term of service, meaning that the length of service would be at the whim of the executive.

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for the Bar

“The Bar took a decision that it should challenge this amendment. The basis of the challenge was essentially that any judge appointed to the Court of Appeal must enjoy security of tenure in order that he or she can be regarded by the litigating public and the public at large as being independent and impartial, and a person cannot by definition be regarded as an independent judge if he or she is serving for only one year, especially when he or she will be hearing cases brought by the government, or against the government. This morning Mr. Justice Legall handed down his decision and agreed with the Bar and declared the amendment to section fifteen and sixteen unconstitutional, so you can no longer have these short term appointments.”

 

Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney for the Bar

“That’s a principle I think that no lawyer would argue with, that judges should be independent or impartial. Translating the principle into practice is where the disagreement normally comes into play. What I think Justice Legall makes very clear is that a very short appointment such as a one year appointment is clearly unacceptable and clearly does not meet the requisite standard.”

 

Andrew Marshalleck

And while the judgment of Justice OswellLegall will directly affect only Justices Elliot Motley and C. Dennis Morrison, it is an important decision with very distinct and wide ranging implications.

 

Andrew Marshalleck

“The direct impact of it is that the appointment of Mr. Justice Morrison goes back to what it was, and had the president, Mr. Elliot Motley, not resigned, his appointment would have reversed in a like fashion. So the impact of the amendment was on those two specific appointments, but the decision is more important for its wider effect and its recognition that these short term appointments can’t serve the constitutional requirements of independence and impartiality.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“What the judge has said is that it is his opinion that a judge, to enjoy security of tenure, should be appointed up to the age of seventy-five. It seems to us that this judgment has vindicated a position that has long been held by the Association that judges both at the Supreme Court and at the Court of Appeal should not be appointed for contracts of one year or two years or three years…even four years. There is no reason why you do a vetting of a judge, find that he or she has the qualifications, find that he or she has the expertise and the independence and integrity…you must appoint that person with security so that person should never have to wonder whether or not if I give a decision one way or the other somebody will be annoyed with me, upset with me and my continued service would be in question. It is also very important for the public. When you are standing before a judge of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal that you don’t have to wonder whether this judge is on a long contract or a short contract, whether your decision is going to be affected because this judge may think…if I rule one way, they may not renew my contract. That essentially is what is called independence and impartiality and it can only be achieved by security of tenure. The sixth amendment which allowed specifically for government to ensure one year appointments can no longer stand, and I think the impact of the decision is that government ought to consider even those judges who are sitting with appointments of two years and three years and four years, whether or not they are sufficiently independent and impartial.”

 

Courtenay took the opportunity to cite the case as only one example of how the Bar Association does work to defend the public interest.

 

Eamon Courtenay

“I will take this opportunity, of course, to say that there were five attorneys acting for the Bar. Mr. Marshalleck, myself, Godfrey Smith, we also had Jackie Marchalleck who was president of the Bar when this thing started and we also had Magali Marin-Young. And this is but one example of issues, where the Bar takes up issues in the public interest and this is why we were saying that it is a bit disappointing for us when criticism was leveled at the Bar. In fact we do things, free of charge, in order to serve the public interest.”

 

Mike Rudon for News Five.

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11 Responses for “Court agrees with Bar and calls for security of tenure for judges”

  1. Storm says:

    Hiring a judge for a short term is ridiculous, because the pressure will always be to please the government to get re-hired. Judges must be independent, so they can smack down the government if that is what the law requires.

    We need a few safeguards, I think:

    1. Either they are appointed for a life tenure [subject to a mandatory retirement age, perhaps, like 70, or,

    2. They are appointed for a term of several years, and then re-elected by the public, not by the government of the day.

    3. Appointment of judges should require either public review of the nominee by the Bar, or maybe a majority vote of the parliament.

    4. There must be provision to impeach judges for misbehavior, and for the public to recall them.

  2. Paint it black says:

    The poodle dogs of the court must respect their master.
    PM has decided this matter, now they must be overruled again, no puppy chow.
    Until they rubber stamp, they are not house trained.
    Outdoors they are too lame and old to be attack dogs of the emperor.

  3. beachman says:

    This decision is a great move towards reducing the GOB’s influence over judges & allows them to issue decisions based on law, not political pressure or manipulation!

  4. sam salter says:

    In total agreement with courts decision may be now we will see some prosecutions at higher levels and bring the the corruption in Belize the Executive branch of government should stay out of the judiciary if we are to have an Impartial justice system

  5. Orlando says:

    Talking about power and now you want tenure? Please allow the people to vote on this matter and see how they feel. You actually telling the citizen of Belize that after a few years of service a judge should have their high paying job for life. Now Belizean people will face a judge with an attitude and it’s like impossible to get him off the bench. I have a better idea, why not give government workers TENURE? afterall they break their back for the country.

  6. Orlando says:

    Tenure? are you kidding me? Please talk to the Belizean people about this matter and let them vote on it. Everyone should be replaceable included JUDGES, don’t you think some of them have an attitude as they try to lay down the law on citizen and often these judges break the very law they try to force on people. Now you actually want to give them a job for life. Here is a better idea, give the Belizean People a job for life and I promise you things will be much better in the city!

  7. marie says:

    No tenure, Judges are getting paid to show up at court, not for the job doing justice. All murder & rape cases have been won by the CRIMINALS.

  8. c 19 says:

    Secure tenure or what ever that invention that Belizean lawyers have created makes judges infalable..that means that a judge cant be fired from his job?another thing is that at the age of 70 and still working?dont this lawyers have a life,family,but I guess its the greed for $$$$

  9. ceo says:

    This is one of the best things that could have happened to our judiciary!

    This will bring international legitimacy to our judicial system. Judges must have securety of tenure so they can rule without fear of favor!

    Good move!

  10. ceo says:

    Marie: judges rule based on nthe evedence before them. The police need to do better work and come up with better evidence.

  11. Orlando says:

    Does anyone here know the meaning of TENURE? this is a problem you the citizen will be forced to live with. Worst of all, they cannot be fired and if they do, then it will cost the tax payers millions and millions. Can Belize really afford this?
    Listen the person that came up with this stupid idea are insulting the citizen of Belize intelligent! and it’s something the people cannot afford.

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