When asked if he would respect the Chief Justice’s ruling if the injunction was granted, the Prime Minister had told the media last Thursday, “We are subject to the rule of law. … whatever decision the court makes would have to be respected,” but after the ruling, the PM said “I am flabbergasted… I would never in a million years have imagined … how on earth a court would stop something like this at the 11th hour …”
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Apr. 3, 2019– Shortly after Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin granted an interim injunction in response to a constitutional claim by Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) parliamentarians and a PUP standard bearer to halt the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum that was scheduled for April 10, Prime Minister Dean Barrow called a press conference that he opened by saying, “Of course I am extremely disappointed by the ruling.”
Last Thursday at Barrow’s press conference at the Best Western Biltmore Hotel, Amandala asked him whether he would respect the ruling of the court, if the court were to grant the injunction that was being sought by the claimants.
Barrow replied, “I wouldn’t have any choice, sir. We are subject to the rule of law. So whatever decision the court makes would have to be respected.”
It appears, however, that the Prime Minister’s general tone following today’s ruling has not reflected the level of respect for the court’s process that he had publicly said he would show.
Barrow went on to lament, “My disappointment is, of course, based on the fact that there has been all this preparation. There has been the frenzied effort to get our people properly informed. There has been the tremendous hard work done by the Referendum Unit, by the public officers.”
Barrow continued, “I believe our counsel, Ms[Lisa] Shoman, indicated that she would be applying to the judge for a variation of the order that he made.”
Barrow then added, “There will be an application to the judge to vary his order so that the referendum might proceed without there being a certification of the results of the vote by the Chief Elections Officer until the larger case would have been completed.”
In a strange twist, however, the Prime Minister continued saying “…the Chief Justice has already signaled that in fact, the substantive matter will proceed and will begin on Monday. Now, I don’t see why, given the urgency of the situation, that the substantive hearing can’t be concluded Monday evening and why there can’t be a decision on Tuesday, and I would certainly expect such a decision to in fact ultimately uphold the referendum proceeding on Wednesday.”
We have inquired of one of the attorneys involved in the case whether the Chief Justice has indicated to them that the substantive claim will be heard on Monday. We were informed that that is not the case; that what will happen on Monday is most likely a case management in which both sides will iron out how the case will proceed in terms of submissions and hearing dates.
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister expects a ruling by Tuesday, regarding a very complicated constitutional challenge, in his favor.
Furthermore, the government will ask the Chief Justice to vary his judgment so that the government can proceed with its ICJ referendum, even though the Chief Justice has found that the government did not follow the requirements of the Referendum Act for the holding of the April 10 referendum.
Regarding the actions that were taken to trigger a referendum under the Referendum Act, four points have been noted: (1) A writ of referendum must be signed by the Governor General within one month after the National Assembly has passed a resolution to hold a referendum.
In this case, the referendum triggered by the protocol of the Special Agreement was not taken to Parliament for such a resolution.
(2) The Governor General signed 31 writs of referendum, but he made mention of the fact that there was a proposed settlement of the Guatemalan claim. It was pointed out in court that that was not the case.
(3) The Referendum Act at Section (2) D stipulates that any proposed settlement of the Guatemalan claim must be put to the people of Belize in a referendum. The ICJ referendum is not a proposed settlement, it was pointed out at the hearing.
(4) For this ICJ referendum, Barrow asked the Governor General to issue a writ of referendum on January 28, 2019. This, however, was kept secret and was only revealed in court when it came out in the affidavit of Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai.
“Are you disappointed — we know you’ve been very outspoken about the performance of the bench, but are you disappointed that the judge in the balance of interest would stop this huge locomotive which is called the ICJ Referendum, which has been going down the mountain for so many years,” 7News’ Jules Vasquez asked Barrow.
Barrow replied, “Of course I’m disappointed, I am flabbergasted. I don’t understand how it could have happened, but I’m not going to be critical of the judge, not at all. So I will leave it at that, I would never in a million years have imagined that given what you just described — far more eloquently than I ever could have, given those circumstances, how on earth a court would stop sometime like this at the 11th hour. In my view, the fact alone that these people were so out of time, you don’t wait until the last minute. In law, there is a doctrine called latches that tells you that if you wait on the 11th hour, that alone should disqualify you from getting even to first base.”
Attorney Lisa Shoman has also been peddling the idea that the claim was filed at the 11th hour. When it comes to constitutional challenges, we have been legally advised that there is no set time to seek constitutional redress from the court.
So while the government attempts to classify the constitutional claim as an “11th hour” filing, the Prime Minister is expecting a less than 11th hour decision from the Chief Justice.
Constitutional challenges are treated with urgency once a judge has determined that an arguable case exists. That is the conclusion that the Chief Justice reached when he issued the interim injunction to halt the referendum so that the court could have a closer look at all the facts advanced in the claim.
It has never been explained by the Prime Minister why it is so imperative that the ICJ referendum be held on April 10. Whether it is held on April 10 or five months later, the referendum will still produce either a yes or no result.
So, we ask, what is the hurry, and why is it so important to the Government for the electorate to vote yes? We thought that voting yes or no was an individual choice for voters.