The Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Hon Dean Barrow, has advised the Governor General to appoint Franz Parke to be a judge on the Court of Appeal of Belize. As I write this, he has not yet been appointed. There is still time for the Prime Minister to withdraw his advice to the Governor General, and stop the proposed appointment.
Who is Franz Parke? Mr Parke is a Jamaican who has been living in the United States of America since 1980 – 37 years. He graduated with Prime Minister Barrow from law school way back in 1975. He served as an entry level criminal prosecutor in Jamaica from 1975 until 1980 when he migrated to the USA. Since then he has never practiced law in the Caribbean or any Commonwealth country.
In the United States, Mr Parke worked in the accounting field from 1980 until 1987. Since 1988 he has been a licensed mortgage broker. So between 1980 and 1990 he did not practice law anywhere. In 1990, he qualified to practice law in the United States of America. He then practiced as Assistant State Attorney in Florida from 1990 until 2001 – prosecuting criminal cases. He started practicing privately in 2002 and has been doing so in Florida up until now.
In summary, Mr Parke’s professional experience is as follows: 5 years as a junior prosecutor in Jamaica; about 8 years in accounting, then 11 years doing criminal prosecution in Florida, followed by 16 years of private practice in Florida. So, of his 32 years of practicing law, only 5 was as a junior lawyer in a Caribbean jurisdiction and 27 as a Florida attorney-at-law.
Mr Parke has no judicial experience. Mr Parke has no relevant experience practicing as an attorney-at-law in the Caribbean. So why has the Prime Minister chosen his former classmate for high judicial office in Belize? Is the Prime Minister’s former classmate qualified to be appointed of the Court of Appeal?
In a recent decision, the Caribbean Court of Justice was considering section 101(2) of the Belize Constitution which provides for appointments to the Court of Appeal. The CCJ stated that when it comes to appointing judges to the Court of Appeal “Section 101(2) of the Constitution indicates that only a high calibre of appointee may be considered.”
A person like Mr Parke, who has been practicing law in Florida for the past 27 years, is not “a high calibre appointee”. He is therefore not qualified to be a judge on the Court of Appeal. He is not qualified because he is not familiar with our laws; he is familiar with the laws of Florida. He is not qualified because he has no relevant practice or experience with laws in Belize or the Caribbean; he has practice and experience with the laws in Florida. Without relevant practice or experience, Mr Parke does not satisfy the criterion established by the CCJ – a high calibre appointee.
Belizeans, consider the following. If you were about to go through a divorce in the Belize Supreme Court, would you hire an attorney who has never practised in Belize, but has been practising in Florida for the past 27 years? If you were facing criminal charges, would you hire such an attorney to defend you? Suppose you won an important case for your business and the loser decided to appeal, would you hire an attorney who has never practised in Belize, but has been practising in Florida for the past 27 years to represent you in the Court of Appeal? Clearly, in each case the answer would be: of course not! So, why is such a person – Franz Parke – being appointed to judge such cases when they come before the Belize Court of Appeal?
There is an important issue at stake here – the rule of law. The Constitution guarantees to one and all the right to a fair hearing in all judicial proceedings. This is secured by having cases tried before independent and impartial courts or tribunals that are capable of fairly trying the matters before them. Inherent to this due process exercise is a precondition that judges have certain minimum qualifications, and that they are experienced enough in the law to hear and decide cases. So for example, if you have a case in Florida, you would only get a fair hearing before a court that is presided over by a judge steeped in the law of Florida.
In Belize, we should expect and insist on judges who are experienced and expert in the laws of Belize or the Commonwealth. It is unfair and therefore unconstitutional to have Franz Parke who has been exclusively practising in Florida for the past 27 years, and therefore unfamiliar with our laws, sit in judgment here in Belize. It is not possible to get a fair hearing before a judge who is experienced in Florida law, but not in Caribbean or Commonwealth law.
Belize deserves better than a judge who has to be learning on the job!
Mr Franz Parke does not have an impressive curriculum vitae – he does not appear to have distinguished himself in any field of law. His curriculum vitae does establish that he is a Florida attorney-at-law who has significant experience in practising law in Florida. But that Florida experience is of little relevance and inapplicable here in Belize. But yet, he is about to be appointed to our Court of Appeal for five years.
No self-respecting Belizean attorney-at-law would accept an appointment as a judge of the Court of Appeal in Florida. Why? Because we don’t know the law of Florida so we would not be qualified to justly preside over cases applying the law of Florida. So, why, pray tell, is a Florida attorney-at-law being forced on the Belizean people?
I believe that the Prime Minister will proceed with the appointment of his unqualified former classmate. That is his style. This is most regrettable. It will result in legal challenges to Mr Parke sitting as a Justice of Appeal. This ill-advised appointment is a retrograde step and will tend to undermine confidence in the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
But its Belize 2017, and “what it is, is what it is”!