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Mar 24, 2009

Argument heard in Rhett Fuller extradition case

Story PictureDay two of the extradition appeal of Rhett Fuller ended late this evening with the defence resting its case. Attorney for Fuller, Eamon Courtenay, put forward seven grounds under which the request for extradition should be denied. Today he argued that too much time had elapsed between the alleged crime his client is accused of and when the United States sought Fuller’s extradition, thereby affecting his right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time. According to Courtenay, the U.S. chose to simply sit on their rights even though they knew where Fuller was, and in addition, they had insufficient evidence. Another submission dealt with the separation of powers of the executive and the judiciary and Courtenay argued that a minister does not have a right to make a determination on the liberty of a person. That power, contends Courtenay, belongs to the judiciary and that any act which grants the executive such a right is unconstitutional. The attorney also opposed the idea put forward by one of the Justice that extradition is a political rather than a judicial process since it deals with a treaty. His final argument was a continuation from the October sitting of the Appeals Court: the powers of the minister. At that time, Courtenay brought forward the submission that there are no laws in Belize identifying a government office or office holder with the responsibility of receiving extradition orders. After court this evening, Courtenay spoke to the press saying he put forward all the pertinent grounds to try and get a victory for his client.

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Rhett Fuller
“We put forward all the grounds that we could. Yes; you can see just now we had quite a debate about the power of the minister to issue the order which was ground seven. The case of Noel Heath, which I had referred to in October, again they came back to that and said maybe that’s the solution. I tried to persuade them that they should not follow that case but we will see. The situation is that the 1870 Act, the Extradition Act from the United Kingdom is the law that appears to be in force in Belize. What that Act did was to say that the Secretary of State or the Minister, whichever you what to call them in the United Kingdom issue an order to the Chief Magistrate to commence extradition proceedings but when you look through the laws coming up to independence, our submission is that the current law in Belize doesn’t state who should provide or who should perform that service; that function. The cases that we looked at in Trinidad, they said it was the President, in the Bahamas; they amended their law and said it would be their Governor General, in St. Kitts; or as in a this case they said it would be the Minister of Foreign Affair, so what I was saying to the Court, that they shouldn’t choose. There clearly is lacuna here in Belize and they should so declare and say that whole thing would fall since the law isn’t clear. There is no doubt in my mind that he would not get a fair trial, we’re talking about something that happened nineteen years ago, nearly twenty years ago. I think anybody, you ask them where were they or what did they do ten years ago much less twenty years ago, they would have grave difficulty to speak with any type of specificity. Would you like to go to a lawyer and say I want to instruct you to represent me about something that happened twenty years ago? How could you remember exactly what happen and the nuances that would be relevant in order for you to instruct a lawyer to defend you properly? To me it is a gross violation of the extradition procedures; it is an abomination indeed for somebody to be called upon by the United States at this stage to go to the United States at this stage and they knew where he was all the while and didn’t do anything about it. They attempted to get him involved other activities which he refuses to do”

Janelle Chanona, Freelance Reporter
“Mr Courtenay, you used words like unjust and unconstitutional to describe this case, what has it been like for you client to have this over his head for this long a time?”

Eamon Courtenay
“Well, I think where we refer to the case of Holmes, it is oppressive for the United States to believe after all this time, after all the contact they had with this man, after giving this man to believe that they really didn’t want him to now come and still insist that they want him. It really is oppressive, the man has a life, he has a family, he has businesses, his life continues to be in some sort of jeopardy.”

Kendra Griffith
“But there’s no statutes of limitation on murder, is there?”

Eamon Courtenay
“There is no statutes of limitations but the cases I referred to what I was saying was that after a sufficient period of time, if the witnesses have all disappeared, if you can’t instruct counsels, if you can’t remember exactly, it then becomes unfair for you to be forced to go through a trial.”

In court Courtenay today brought up the fact that the office of the Attorney General and the Minister of Foreign Affairs is held by the same person: Wilfred Elrington. According to Courtenay, it is unfair because the A.G. represents the U.S. government and if the appellant has to make a plea, it would be before the same representative for the U.S. government, but in his capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Representative for the Attorney General, Priscilla Banner will start her submissions on Wednesday.

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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