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Apr 3, 2019

Referendum Train Stopped Dead in Its Tracks!!

There is a major upset for the government in respect of the I.C.J. referendum that was scheduled for next week Wednesday. In a packed courtroom, a ruling was handed down this afternoon by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin prohibiting the government from proceeding with the April tenth referendum as scheduled. The C.J. found that the injunction should be issued because there was an arguable case that the legal formalities which must be complied with to hold the referendum have in fact not been carried out.  In giving his ruling, C.J. Benjamin said that there was merit in the argument of Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay that the Prime Minister acted wrongly when he asked the Governor General to issue a writ to hold the referendum. In his letter of the twenty-eighth of January 2019, the PM asked for a referendum to be held on whether to send the dispute to the I.C.J.  However, in the writ issued by the G.G., he requested the Elections and Boundaries Commission to hold a settlement on the proposed settlement between Belize and Guatemala. The C.J. said that this has to be considered at trial as it does not appear that Section Three of the Referendum Act was complied with.  Immediately after the C.J. issued his decision, the government’s attorney Lisa Shoman asked the Chief Justice to vary his order to allow the referendum to proceed, but restrain the Chief Elections Officer from certifying the results.  After objections from Senior Counsel Courtenay the C.J. said that if they wished the court to consider that, they should make an application to the court. Here is News Five’s Isani Cayetano with this developing story.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The fast-moving locomotive that is government’s push toward an I.C.J. referendum on April tenth has been stopped in its tracks.  This afternoon inside the courtroom of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, a decision was handed down effectively halting the scheduled holding of the national vote next Wednesday.  The interim injunction remains in effect until an appeal is heard before or after the said date.  Those papers were signed by Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte immediately following the upsetting outcome.  Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, who represents the People’s United Party, gave a synopsis of what transpired in court today.


Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Claimants

“What has happened just now is that the Chief Justice has found that there is an arguable case that there is a procedure under which the referendum has been launched by the government may be irregular.  We are satisfied that we have more than a good argument to make on it and as a result of his concern as to the propriety of the referendum process, he has issued an injunction restraining the holding of the referendum on Wednesday.”


Party Leader John Briceño shared with us an initial reaction to the ruling of the Supreme Court.


John Briceño

John Briceño, Leader, People’s United Party

“Well certainly, I don’t think it is time to gloat.  We are standing up for the Belizean people but I want to make three basic points, one is about legality, certainty and respect.  Legality, that we‘ve been saying from the beginning that this whole process that the U.D.P. has taken is illegal.  Secondly, that there must be certainty in what we are doing.  This is something that has, that can have a direct effect or impact on the future of this country and we have been very clear that we are always going to stand up for the future of Belize and thirdly, about respect.  The prime minister and the U.D.P. government needs to understand that they need to respect us in the opposition when we‘re saying that you must come to the house and have an open and full debate.  What is it that the prime minister is afraid of?  Is he afraid that he would not be able to control his representatives?”


According to Courtenay, there are four means under the existing law, including matters of national importance, through which a referendum can be held.  He says that government has purposely shied away from taking the matter to the House of Representatives.


Eamon Courtenay

“The first issue is, under the Referendum Act you can have a referendum on four bases.  The first is a resolution of the National Assembly that says it‘s a matter of national importance and there should be a referendum on it.  The government went under Section 21D which provides that if there‘s a proposed settlement that that settlement be put to the people for their approval or rejection and I pointed out to the Chief Justice in arguments that there is no proposed settlements and for there to be a settlement you need to know the terms and nobody knows the terms.  So the CJ looked at that and said, “Now hold on there is no proposed settlement, so what is it that the people are voting on?”  They are voting on a dispute resolution mechanism going to the I.C.J.  Well, that is not provided for in the Referendum Act under Section 21D.  What the prime minister has been running away from is exactly what the claimants have been demanding.  If the prime minister wants to have this referendum lawfully, he should move the resolution first of all under Section 21A but that requires a debate in the House of Representatives and that resolution has to be passed and it is quite obvious that he is afraid of it and the reason he is afraid of it is because there are members in his house who are not going to come out publicly at the National Assembly and vote in support of what he wants to do.”


Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte, who was on-hand for the ruling, also weighed in on the outcome.  He endorsed the appeal forms immediately following the decision and is anticipating a response from the appellate jurisdiction.  The granting of an interim injunction, he says, is disappointing.


Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General

“I usually don’t have reactions to court rulings, especially since we plan on appealing the decision.  So I don‘t want to comment on the details of it until the matter has been completed and the process has been drawn to its conclusion in the courts.”


Isani Cayetano

“Were you at all prepared for such an outcome today?”


Michael Peyrefitte

“Absolutely, I have already signed the appeal forms and those will go in no later than tomorrow morning and hopefully we can get a hearing before the Court of Appeal before April tenth.”



“Sir, what do you make of the fact that now that this injunction is in place it could take months or years before an actual referendum takes place, since this case has to go to completion first?”


Michael Peyrefitte

“Well, then the people‘s United Party would have to explain that to the people.  They decided to challenge the holding of the referendum on April tenth.  If it gets delayed because of this years and years to come then that‘s a question for the P.U.P.”


Attorney Lisa Shoman explains the basis on which the CJ granted the injunction, as well as the indefinite timeline for a referendum to be held in light of this latest development.


Lisa Shoman

Lisa Shoman, Attorney for G.O.B.

“The only point on which the claimants have succeeded and on which an injunction has been granted is the question of whether the writs are valid. So that is going to be a rather technical view of looking at the writs to see if they square up and are in order.  And if the court says they square up and are in order, we are having a referendum, the only issue of course is when that referendum will actually be.  Understand that what the claimants may have succeeded in is getting a postponement but not more than that because this is something that we are asking for two things at this point: applying to the courts for a variation and we‘ve indicated that the variation would be since nobody knows whether it‘s yes or no, let‘s go ahead with our referendum on April tenth but the Chief Elections Officer wouldn‘t certify the results unless we‘ve already looked at the validity of those writs.  It‘s a technical point and people should, in a democracy like ours, exercise their right to yes or no.”


Isani Cayetano

“That has been described as a strange proposal to make in lieu of the outcome.”


Lisa Shoman

“That‘s not strange, but I understand why Mr. Courtenay feels compelled to say it is strange.  What is strange to me is the notion that somehow the will of the people should be held back.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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