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Aug 22, 2008

6th Amendment Bill gets second and third reading

Prime Minister Barrow was a happy camper when the issue of the Sixth Amendment Bill went through the second and third reading and was debated in the House. And while they were passed at today’s sitting, according to the P.M., they won’t come into force until October because of a pending appeal.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Hallelujah, this is a red letter day for the U.D.P. and for the people of this country. When we pass these constitutional amendments; this constitutional amendment bill today, we would have made safe in a way unprecedented our democracy and the rule of openness and transparency. We indicated that we were hearing what the people of Belize were saying and we were listening to what the people of Belize were saying and we indicated even before coming back to the House, that we would make changes accordingly, that we would make changes to reflect some of the concerns expressed by the people of this country. This bill has been challenged by the Peoples’ United Party I believe … nowadays you never know who is working for who, who is really P.U.P. or which faction of the P.U.P. they belong to. But Lisa Shoman and Anthony Sylvester and others went to court to challenge what we were doing, saying that there must be a referendum before we can change the constitution. As I indicated, that was always nonsense. The constitution itself prescribed the method for amending the constitution and no ordinary law can interfere with that because such an ordinary law would be unconstitutional. The Chief Justice has confirmed that, but said that after the law is passed by the two Houses, in his view there should be a referendum, which cannot affect what the two houses would have done, which cannot affect the efficacy and the validity of the law, but which he says would give the people of Belize an opportunity to express an opinion. In my view, that would be an idle exercise because the law would already have been the law and nothing that is said byway of the referendum could change that. We want to be absolutely careful to signal to the entire country that we have the greatest possible respect for the Chief Justice, more to the point, for the courts of this country and for the Supreme Court of this country. We disagree with him, especially given that the old Referendum Act, which provided, as I thought, in a silly fashion for this referendum especially given that that’s now been repealed. That aspect of it has been repealed. We disagree with the Chief Justice that there is any need to hold what we consider to be an idle referendum but out of deference to his position as the head of the courts, we will not bring the amendments into force until this matter has been sorted out by the Court of Appeal. The government has appealed the Chief Justice’s decision, the Court of Appeal comes in October and we will wait to see what the Court of Appeal says. If the Court of Appeal says it agrees with the Chief Justice and we must hold a referendum, notwithstanding that it will make no difference to the law, we will do so because we are obliged to respect the courts of this country.”

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