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Chief Justice denies redistricting injunction

HeadlineChief Justice denies redistricting injunction

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 29, 2020– As previously reported, the Belize Peace Movement (BPM) has been pursuing a lawsuit at the Supreme Court since December of 2019 in an effort to begin the long overdue redistricting process for the 31 constituencies in Belize.

The BPM’s premise has been that the disproportionate sizes of these constituencies violate the Constitution. Imbedded in their lawsuit was a clause to invoke an injunction in the event that elections were called before the redistricting case ran its course.

Upon the Governor General’s Office’s October 6 announcement that general elections had been set for November 11, the BPM made good on their intentions and immediately began to rally for a delay of the general elections, filing an application on Tuesday, October 13, for an interim injunction at the Belize Supreme Court.

Multiple political figures quickly voiced their opposition to the actions of the BPM. The most notable expression of opposition came from the People’s United Party (PUP), who quickly submitted themselves as litigants in the case, arguing against the injunction in light of the time and resources spent on campaigning over the past year.

The case finally made its way before acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana, who, on Wednesday, October 28, 2020, after six hours of listening to virtual arguments from both parties, ruled against the BPM.

Attorney Arthur Saldivar, who represented the BPM, argued that the elections would undermine democracy because of the disproportionate constituency representation.

Assistant Solicitor General Samantha Matute-Tucker, who represented the Government and the Elections and Boundaries Commission, argued that the injunction could not be honored because the Supreme Court does not have the jurisdiction to intervene in such a matter, and the National Assembly has already been dissolved.

Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, who championed the PUP, also backed the Assistant Solicitor General in her arguments.

The acting Chief Justice outlined her reasoning that led to the ruling in favor of the Government and the PUP, stating that she was “persuaded by the abundance of case law provided, which includes Privy Council and Caribbean Court of Justice decisions, that this court does not have inherent jurisdiction to hear this matter, as the election process has already begun.”

Following the ruling, the BPM’s attorney, as well as their chairman, Robert “Bobby” Lopez, said that they were fully prepared to appeal the case, and if necessary, take it to the CCJ.

It is important to note that Lord Michael Ashcroft also had representation at the virtual hearing and was represented by Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck. Ashcroft, who offered his assistance in the case on behalf of the Elections and Boundaries Commission in July, was asking for the Elections and Boundaries Commission to submit a proper proposal to parliament for the redistricting process to occur.

Ashcroft went as far as to source a professional, Sean P. Trende, to produce a report that could support the Elections and Boundaries Commission in their proposal.

Lopez referenced Trende’s report as a basis for appealing the case and taking it further with confidence:

He said, “The special report confirmed that 72% of the constituencies were mal-apportioned. It confirmed that it violates all international norms. If you have 520% disparity between the smallest and the largest being Fort George and Stann Creek West, how can you say that those are equal or nearly equal?

“We are not dampened at all. We are actually energized to get to this far. We were certainly hoping that she would have granted the other request that we made to now hear our case, and so we are waiting for that, because our case will continue, but the ruling that took place today, we shall appeal.

“It is our right as Belizean citizens to appeal a decision, so we shall take it to the Court of Appeal. We’ve always said that we would take it to the highest court.

“This is a leap of faith … and so we place our faith in God and we feel that our Constitution, also recognizing our supremacy of God, expects us to do nothing less than to seek justice and to go as far as we can, so we are instructing our attorneys to appeal to the local Appeal Court, and then we are prepared to go to the CCJ.”

During a press briefing, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay did concede that the redistricting is a necessary process. Courtenay says that we need to “move swiftly after the elections to do the necessary re-divisioning.”

But for now, he said, let the people vote.

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