BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 1, 2023
Former Belizean Court of Appeal Justice, Samuel Lungole Awich, 76, is suing the Social Security Board (1st Defendant) and the Government of Belize through the Attorney General’s Ministry. As per the claim form submitted, Awich retired from the Court of Appeal of Belize on March 3, 2022 after continuous appointment. He served on the bench in different capacities beginning from March 23, 2001 as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Belize. Between August 1, 2010 and April 30, of 2011, he served as Acting Chief Justice and was returned to Supreme Court Justice from May 1, 2011 to May 14, 2012. His appointment as Justice of the Court of Appeal started May 15, 2012 but it was not supported by the Bar Association of Belize which also opposed the renewal and extension of his contract in 2014. He therefore had an embattled tenure as on the one hand, the Bar (whose president at the time was Eamon Courtenay, S.C.) levied criticisms against him that he did not deliver judgments in a timely fashion, but he was defended by the Barrow Administration whose then Attorney General Wilfred Elrington said his decisions didn’t see reversal more than the average in any jurisdiction. Awich is being represented by his son, attorney Kileru Awich.
As per the claim, in the entirety of Justice Awich’s service, total salary received was $2,498,333; therefore, he is seeking his 10% retirement benefit of $249,833 – plus interest – to which he says he is entitled upon reaching retirement age. Among the Social Security Act sections cited as applicable in the claim are Sections 57 and 58, which speak to the employer having failed or neglected to pay contributions on behalf of an insured person.
The claim form notes, “the Claimant has made the claim to the First Defendant who has so far failed or neglected to pay.” It adds that the Government is being sued for the same amount in the event the High Court does not make an order against the Social Security Board to pay the requested sum to the claimant.
It is cited in the claim that since the Claimant’s salary received was net salary, he assumed that the Government was paying his Social Security contributions; but upon inquiry, he learned that the contributions “may have not been made at all.” It is highlighted that according to law, even if the employer did not pay the required contributions, the Social Security Board is obliged to pay retirement benefit to the Claimant.
Citing sections 183 and 184 of the Labour Act, Awich claims severance pay of $100,000 plus costs and interest at 6% per annum from the Government, which he says he has requested but has not received. That is at the rate of two weeks’ wages per year of employment.
Awich reports that both defendants were served with a 30-day notice on January 26, 2023 stating his intended action. When the 30 days expired, the claimant proceeded with the lawsuit. The sums cited in those notices were $181,000 retirement benefit and $88,076 severance.
Amandala reached out to Kileru Awich who told us, “no comment.” Attorney General Magali Marin-Young, however, told us that the Registrar of the High Court has notified her that all Social Security contributions for the former judge were paid “and so have his gratuity and all contractual obligations.” She added that she was taken aback by the claim “especially since the issue of his removal is still before the Belize Advisory Council. The matter of his removal may now become relevant if there is any merit in his claim for ‘retirement benefits.’” AG Marin-Young is referring to what transpired regarding a claim that Dean Boyce, British Caribbean Bank Ltd. and Lord Michael Ashcroft had jointly brought against the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) after they requested on July 17, 2012 that Awich be removed from office for inability or misbehaviour for the previously cited accusation from the Bar that there were long delays in Awich’s delivery of judgments while a Supreme Court Judge. The JLSC ordered that the judge’s conduct, prior to him being elevated to the Court of Appeal, could not be considered. Then Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel ruled that the JLSC erred in its decision and referred the matter back to the Commission for reconsideration. The matter was appealed all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) after the Court of Appeal overturned the Supreme Court’s decision. The CCJ, however, ordered the complaint returned to the JLSC for its consideration of whether the complaint should be referred to the Belize Advisory Council.