Court of Appeal orders new trial by a different judge
BELIZE CITY, Fri. May 17, 2019– Yesterday, Thursday, May 16, the Belize Court of Appeal handed down a ruling regarding an appeal in connection with a case in which Opposition People’s United Party parliamentarian, Hon. Julius Espat, area representative for the Cayo South, had sued the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Michael Peyfefitte, and the Clerk of of the National Assembly for violating his constitutional rights when he was dragged out of a House meeting.
The Court of Appeal ruled to send back the case to the Supreme Court so that it could be tried by a different judge.
Belize’s parliamentarians can say almost anything about each other in the House of Representatives because their speech is protected from the laws of libel and slander. Dragging a duly elected member of the House chamber is another matter altogether, and so Espat filed a lawsuit.
The defendants applied to have the case struck out and the Chief Justice agreed with them and struck out the case in December 2016. Espat appealed the Chief Justice’s decision.
The background of the matter is that Espat wanted to tackle the matter of apparent corruption in the Auditor General’s Report, but the Speaker of the House, Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, would not hear him.
Espat stood his ground and after a back-and-forth, he was dragged out of the House of Representatives by policemen, following the instructions of the Speaker, after Espat had been purportedly named.
Espat’s attorney, Andrew Marshalleck, S.C., spoke to reporters following the ruling.
Marshalleck said, ”I’m sure everyone can remember what happened in the House when the Speaker purportedly named Mr. Espat, and had him physically removed from the premises. Well, immediately following that, we filed suit alleging that those actions were taken in breach of the constitutional rights of Mr. Espat; specifically, that the issue of the naming was never put to the House for a vote and that under the rules, properly, the House should have voted on whether or not he should be named.
“Instead, the Speaker usurped that power and exercised it without having put it to a vote. What happened at first instance, in the court below, the Chief Justice acceded to an application to strike out the claim. He found that the allegations of constitutional breach were without merit and struck out the claim on that basis. It’s been some time now so I can’t remember all the details specifically.
“We had appealed against that decision and the Court of Appeal, just now handed down its ruling on the appeal, setting aside the Chief Justice’s order and remitting the application to strike back to another judge of the court below for hearing.”
Following the Court of Appeal ruling, Espat told News5, “From the day it happened, we have been confident that it was not handled properly.”
Espat added, “If you can recall, going back to the footage, I, even Prime Minister Musa and myself, were in conversation during that time and as the senior leader on our side, he had told me that the rules and regulations were not being followed, and he had stated it and showed me the standing order.
“So, we were confident from that time. When we took the claim to court, government’s defense, and only defense, was that the judiciary did not have any authority to make decisions for parliament and the legislature, meaning that the Speaker’s decision was final and the judge had no ability to change that.
“So, the Chief Justice at the time decided that he wouldn’t hear the claim because of that specific issue.
“Again, we did not agree, so we went to the second level, which was the Appeal Court, and basically, the Appeal Court struck down that, based on all the evidence that our senior attorney [Andrew] Marshalleck had provided.
“The appeals court decided that the judge erred in his decision, and they are giving an order to the Supreme Court to hear the case again, but the only difference this time is that it be presided over by a different judge. They haven’t specified which judge. To us, that’s comfortable because then all we have to do now is resubmit our claim, and then government has to now come up with a different defense.”
Espat was asked what remedy he was seeking from the court.
Espat replied, “One: We want to make sure that the decision that was done was erroneous. So that is setting a precedence that even if you are the leader of a country, as in the case of the Prime Minister or if you are the Speaker of the House within parliament, you are also to abide by the rule of law.
“Two: That I be paid back, what was taken away from me. My salary was deducted for a large period of time, and any other claim that we might decide. We haven’t decided on that as yet. But the most important, above all, is to set the rule of law in place. And it can’t be done by means of rhetoric, and so now, we are relying on the third branch of government, which is the Judiciary, to set precedent as to what is right and what is wrong, and for it to not happen again.”