BELIZE CITY, Tues. Feb. 9, 2021– On Tuesday, February 9, the Supreme Court of Belize granted the judicial review application of the Deputy Comptroller of the Customs & Excise Department, Ian Haylock. The court, however, decided to deny his application for interim relief, which was a request that the current Comptroller of Customs, Estelle Leslie, whose recent promotion to the post is being challenged by Haylock, be removed from the post until the matter is resolved.
As previously reported, the case, which is being presided over by Justice Westmin James, hinges on Haylock’s claim that the appointment of Estelle Leslie as Comptroller of the Customs was unconstitutional, since proper consultations were never done with the Public Services Commission prior to the appointment, as is mandated by law.
Haylock, the applicant, is also asserting that since he is the most senior customs officer at the department (with about 33 years of service) and had been serving as Acting Comptroller of Customs since the office was demitted by former Comptroller Colin Griffith, he, and not Leslie, should have been the foremost candidate for the Customs Comptroller post.
The Government of Belize and Prime Minister John Briceño, represented by the Deputy Solicitor General, Samantha Matute-Tucker, submitted that adequate consultations were conducted and that the appointment was within the law, further stating that the application was an “academic” one..
Justice James, in handing down his decision, cited a wealth of case law pertaining to the submissions of both parties. He first outlined that at the heart of the question on whether to grant leave in this application is a jurisdictional issue, since the respondents (Matute-Tucker on behalf of GOB and the Prime Minister) submitted that the court cannot inquire into an appointment made by the Governor-General, since doing so would result in a breach of the principles of separation of powers. Justice James, however, in handing down his decision, pointed out that the principle can only be applied in cases where the decisions made by the Governor-General are lawful.
“If the advice of the Prime Minister did not occur after consultation in accordance with the Constitution, then the advice to the Governor-General would not be legitimate and unconstitutional and therefore mean that the Governor-General would have acted unlawfully and his actions reviewable by this court,” Justice James remarked.
He then moved to the issue of the consultation with the Public Services Commission. He shared that section 129(2) of the Constitution mandates that parties must be given a genuine opportunity to respond and give their views where consultations are required. It also states that adequate time must be given to such parties.
He then ruled that the applicant (Haylock) has an arguable case, since the time given to the Public Service Commission to consider the matter and provide a response was not adequate.
“In the present matter, there are two arguments that may have some realistic prospect of success. The arguments that there ought to have been consultations, and or adequate consultation, and that there was effectively no consultation, then the instruments issued by the Governor-General can be null and void.” Justice James declared.
In stating the reasoning for the denial of the injunction in certiorari to remove the Comptroller until the end of the proceeding, Justice James presented case law which outlines that the absence of such an important official would cause more harm than good to the public and as a result should be left unchanged until a final decision is made.
Justice James also ruled that the application made by the attorney for Comptroller Leslie, Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck, for her to be added as an interested party would be allowed.
The tentative date for the hearing is March 26, 2021. The case will be expedited by the courts, and as a result, Haylock (the applicant) and his attorney will have 7 days to submit their application. The attorney for the Government announced that they may appeal the decision and initially had asked for a period of three weeks to respond to the application. Justice James granted them two weeks. Written submissions should be made by March 19, 2021.