General — 25 September 2009 — by Rowland Parks
The Bar Association of Belize will be holding a Special General Meeting on Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at the Radisson Fort George Hotel to discuss a proposed resolution that the association has circulated to its members, after an earlier Bar Association meeting that was held on September 17, 2009, resulted in a resolution that aims to remove Supreme Court Justice Samuel Lungole-Awich.
Amandala has obtained a copy of the resolution, which points to “nine judgments still reserved by Mr. Justice Awich, the longest outstanding judgment being reserved well in excess of three years.” It pronounces the “failure of Mr. Justice Awich to deliver the outstanding judgments “ to be a breach of the “constitutional rights of the relevant litigants to a fair hearing within a reasonable period of time.” Awich’s excessive delay in the delivery of judgments erodes the confidence of the public in the administration of justice, the resolution declares.
In setting out the justification for recommending Justice Awich’s removal, the resolution states that the time thus far allowed by the Bar Association to deliver outstanding judgments was sufficient for all judges, except Justice Awich, to substantially deliver outstanding judgments. It also refers to the “duty of the Bar Association to promote and ensure the proper administration of justice and unceasingly to watch over and protect the civil liberties of … litigants.” The view of the Association, in the context of such obligations, is that “the failure to deliver the outstanding decisions by Mr. Justice Awich amounts to misbehaviour in office.”The view of the Association, in the context of such obligations, is that
In the resolution, Justice Awich is thus formally invited by the Association to “ forthwith resign”, and the Chief Justice and Attorney General are also urged “to invite Mr. Justice Awich to forthwith resign from office.”
In the final section of the resolution, it is stated that if the invitation for Awich to resign from office is not accepted, the Bar Association would make a formal complaint against him to the Governor General, “calling for his removal from office for misbehaviour in accordance with the provisions of Article 98 of the Constitution of Belize on the basis of Mr. Justice Awich’s persistent failure to render timely decisions and judgments in breach of the duties of his office.”
Justice Awich, who is originally from Uganda, was appointed to the court on April 2, 2001. At the time of his appointment, Chief Justice Conteh said that. “I have every confidence that he will be a boon to the judiciary of Belize with his experience in comparative Commonwealth jurisprudence. I’m sure before too long the law report or at least the judgments of the Belize Supreme Court will be adorned with some jewels, planning and wisdom from Mr. Justice Awich. It gives me great pleasure to welcome Justice Awich on the bench.”
Amandala attempted to speak to Bar Association President, Aldo Salazar, this afternoon, but he did not return our calls.
When asked about the resolution that is in circulation among bar members, attorney Michael Peyrefitte told us that he did not know that much about the resolution. He said, however, “It is a ballsy thing to do. I hope that whoever is the sponsor of the motion have good grounds. Even if the motion is without malice, if they are not careful, the situation could become messy and could further erode the people’s confidence in the judiciary.”
If the Bar Association manages to get more than the handful of members who attended the September 17 meeting to attend the Special General Meeting on Tuesday, then they will make a formal complaint to the Governor General and begin the process of having Justice Awich removed.
When Amandala contacted Judge Awich this evening for his comment, he told us, “I don’t speak to reporters.”
In recent times, the only Supreme Court Judge that has been removed was George Meerabux, by the Governor General, Sir Colville Young, on the advice of the Belize Advisory Council, after a broad collation of the Bar Association submitted a case against him for misconduct. Justice Meerabux was removed on September 20, 2001.