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Mar 8, 2019

Supreme Court Responds Tacitly to Criticism from PM Barrow

Dean Barrow

During the Prime Minister’s Business Forum on February twenty-first, the head of government took advantage of an opportunity to chide the court system, taking particular aim at a sitting judge.  PM Barrow’s keynote address dealt with a deprivation of roughly fourteen million from government’s treasury, monies that were offset from Belize Bank’s taxes.  Not only did the prime minister make it known that the decision of Justice Courtney Abel will be challenged at the appellate level, his remarks were seen by many as contemptible.  Furthermore, he went on to criticize the bench for its purported treatment of crown counsels, pointing out that the Government of Belize has lost more than ninety percent of its cases before Justice Abel.  Earlier today, the Supreme Court issued a release responding to the position taken by Prime Minister Barrow, albeit not in a direct and frank manner.  The statement issue by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin goes on to say, quote, In the light of recent comments in the public domain, it is important to stress that the judiciary remains resolute and committed to delivering, and as appropriate, improving a standard of justice of the highest competence that is fair, transparent and accessible to all persons regardless of their status or standing in society based on the merits and the facts and applicable law of the case, unquote.  For context, we will revisit the comments made by PM Barrow at the 2019 Business Forum.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: February 21st, 2019]

“The judicial decision that enabled this is absolutely going to be challenged by GOB, especially since it came in circumstances where the Bench appeared not just heedless of, but downright rude to, the Crown and its law officers. Justice is not a cloistered virtue and when there is what appears to be unremitting judicial hostility to litigants, when this goes beyond mere impatient descends into downright incivility, absolutely upsetting the equilibrium of especially young crown council and lawyers who spend a world of time preparing their arguments only to be dismissed in the most slighting manner, I will use my bully pulpit to speak out against that. And I will tell you, I am not just doing it today. We have officially made a complaint about that type of behavior. A particular judge, we gone over the records and a part from the fact that our crown counsel and law officers have complained loud and long about the way they are treated. We also see that perhaps ninety-five percent, maybe even ninety-nine percent, result in a loss for the Government. It can’t, well let me be very, very careful about what I say. There may be all sorts of reasons for that, for the record which I won’t go into but certainly it is startling. It is a very striking statistic. But it really is that our law officers complain about the way they are treated. When you think in terms of fairly young attorneys at law who are just getting their feet wet, who are anxious to make a good start in the profession, who work hard, who do a great deal of research and pain staking preparation and when they come back they say that they’ve been treated slightingly, they have been handled dismissively, they as it were broken spirited. I don’t deal with them directly. I get this from the Attorney general. When that happens, and it happens over and over and over again, in my view, there is time when those who ultimately have responsibility for those law officers and all servants or officers of the Government of Belize need to speak out.  This has reached epic proportions in terms of the reports that have been given to me and to the cabinet by the Attorney General. Justice is a not a cloistered virtue. You can’t, you can’t be a judge and think that you are immune from criticism if you behave in a way that deserves criticism. As long as we are not talking about the question about the judge’s integrity and I have made plain and I will repeat, that is not what is the issue.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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