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Mar 15, 2019

Interim Injunction of the April Referendum; Chief Justice Sets Hearing for April First

The courtroom of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin was overflowing this morning with attorneys and claimants. Five parliamentarians and a deputy party leader of the P.U.P. are asking the court to determine the legality of the special agreement signed in 2008. That agreement ended negotiations and opened the way to take the territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala to the International Court of Justice. But before that, a referendum has to be held and the claimants are seeking an interim injunction.  The clock is ticking for the April tenth poll so the legal challenge, therefore, has a sense of urgency.  The C.J. made certain determinations this morning and the claimants will go back to court on April first. Here is Duane Moody with a report. 

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Today, a constitutional challenge to the legality of the Compromis was brought before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. A battery of lawyers was led by Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay on behalf of five P.U.P. parliamentarians and a P.U.P. Deputy Party Leader, Anthony Mahler. But because of the quickly approaching date of the referendum, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin said that the matter which is of national importance could not be dealt with by the end of the month and the case was pushed back. Also brought before the court, however, was an interim injunction on the April tenth referendum, which will be heard on April first with a decision to be handed down before the referendum on April tenth.  Acting along with the Solicitor General Eliza Montalvo and her team for the Government of Belize is Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman.

 

Lisa Shoman

Lisa Shoman, Attorney for G.O.B.

“The hearing was set for the urgent interim injunction that the claimants were asking for. Essentially, they were asking for two things. For the prime minister to be prevented from asking the GG to hold writs of referendum. In fact that has already happened. That request was made back in January and the writs were issued in February, so this is well after any such request. So what I signalled to the court is that Mister Courtenay accepts that that has already happened. So what we will be arguing over in terms of injunction only will be the matter of whether the referendum can or should be conducted.”

 

With oral hearing set for April first at one p.m., the defendants will file and serve affidavits by March twenty-second and written submission will be given on March twenty-fifth. But it is only nine days shy of the referendum. So if the injunction was not to be granted and after hearing the substantive claim, the Compromis is found to be unconstitutional, what happens to the results of the referendum?

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Claimants

“I don’t want to prejudge what the honourable Chief Justice might find. We believe that there are compelling reasons for this matter to be before the court and that is why I stress to the CJ that the government itself is saying that this raises a matter of national importance. If both sides agree that it is a matter of national importance, it seems to me that the government can easily give an undertaking that it will put off the referendum until the Supreme Court has determined this matter. Let’s not forget that Guatemala postponed their referendum twice. There is no magic to the tenth of April and so I believe the rule of law must prevail and this matter should be completed before the referendum is held.”

 

Shoman questioned why the claimants waited until now to file an injunction since the Compromis and the referendum was agreed to from 2008. She charges that the court will be looking at a case of convenience versus justice.

 

Lisa Shoman

“The issue of convenience is the issue of justice. In other words, there are Belizeans who want the referendum to be stopped. Among those people are the claimants for their reasons. There are equally Belizeans who wish the referendum to go on because the government has announced that it will be held and they have a legitimate expectation that it will be held.”

 

Among the six claimants is deputy party leader, Cordel Hyde. It is known that the P.U.P. has taken a party position to say NO to the I.C.J. So is it just an attempt by the opposition to shut down the referendum arbitrarily?

 

Cordel Hyde

Cordel Hyde, Claimant

“Under the laws of Belize the people of Belize have the final say, have veto over any proposed final settlement with Guatemala. In other words, we get to say yeah or nay on any proposed settlement with Guatemala. What you have under the Special Agreement is a proposal to outsource that power to fifteen foreign judges. In other words, we will be saying to fifteen foreign judges; you decide this matter, you settle this matter and we will live with it. We will have to live with it because under the terms of the Special Agreement, essentially what we are doing is saying it is binding. Anything from the I.C.J. will be binding, will be final. If we go and lose, we will be crying, weeping but we cannot do anything about it. And what we are saying is that this is a very far-reaching consequence of the Special Agreement.”

 

And if the CJ rules against the claimants…

 

Eamon Courtenay

“If the Chief Justice were to say no to the injunction, we have the option on moving on an emergency basis to the court of appeal and thereafter on an emergency basis to the Caribbean Court of Justice. But all of that is prejudging what is going to happen. We believe that the interest of justice and the rule of law will require that the claimants have their day in court before the referendum is held.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.


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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