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Jul 28, 2008

C.J. rules against government in referendum case

Story PictureChief Justice Abdulai Conteh handed down a decision this morning and granted judicial review in a constitutional case that challenged the Prime Minister for his government’s decision to amend the Referendum Act, before going first to the citizens. The ruling was thirty one pages long, took just under two hours to deliver, and was full of complexities for what the court expects.

The claim was brought by Alberto Vellos, a former editor of The Belize Times and a group of citizens. On June thirtieth, the group took the Prime Minister to Court claiming that in essence, the amendments repealed the requirement to hold a referendum whenever there are changes to the Constitution that affect the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed to each and every one of us. Vellos’ claim was that the Prime Minister acted unlawfully in his failure to request the Governor-General to call a referendum in respect of the amendments to the Referendum Act which have already been passed by the House and Senate and which would enforce a referendum only in the instance of the settlement to the territorial dispute by Guatemala.

In his ruling this morning the Chief Justice granted relief in favour of the group of citizens to the extent that the Court EXPECTS that a referendum will be called on the recently proposed constitutional amendments even after the Governor General assents to amendments to the Referendum Act. Attorneys Anthony Sylvestre and Lisa Shoman represented the citizens group. Shoman commented on the CJ’s ruling.

Lois Young, Attorney for Government
“The judgment was difficult to understand.”

Lisa Shoman, Attorney for the Claimants
“I think it’s a vindication of the citizens’ rights to be consulted in the issue. He has granted the relief but the prime minister does not have to call the referendum until the ninety days have passed. That is the Chief Justice’s ruling and obviously it must be respected. The ruling is an expectation and that is the language the court uses. The Chief Justice used very strong language to give, as his opinion that it is interesting to see that whereas we are preserving the right to have a referendum on Belize Guatemala, we don’t think it is important as a parliament, as a citizenry to preserve this right in relation to fundamental rights and freedoms. Perhaps the time has come for us to include this in the sixth Constitutional Amendment Bill and to make referendum and citizens referendums especially when it comes to fundamental rights and freedoms to make that a part of our constitution.”

Lois Young
“There’s nothing to stop the governor general signing off on the referendum act.”

Attorney Lois Young-Barrow appeared for the Prime Minister. The Court also ordered that ten thousand dollars in costs of courts be met by the Government.

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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