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LOO criticizes appointment of foreign high court judges; Cabinet Secretary responds

GeneralLOO criticizes appointment of foreign high court judges; Cabinet Secretary responds

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 16, 2023

The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, has publicly criticized the current administration’s recent appointments of foreign judges to the High Court of Belize. Barrow believes that such appointments are a clear indication that Belizean legal professionals are being overlooked.

In a letter to Prime Minister John Briceño, dated November 14, Barrow stated, “I regard the appointment of judges to the High Court to be a most important and far-reaching matter.” He then accuses the government of failing to properly consult the Leader of the Opposition as stipulated by the Constitution, referring to the official notification of the appointments that he received from the government as a mere “half-page letter.”

Barrow pointed out that no Belizean has been appointed as a Judge of the High Court since the current administration took office, and he drew attention to what has become, in his view, a trend: the appointment of foreign appointees who lack the bench experience that Belizean candidates possess. “Under your watch Belize’s upper Judiciary is almost entirely staffed by foreigners,” Barrow wrote.

In his weekly media briefing, Barrow mentioned “the direction that the Briceño administration has gone in since taking office, a very anti-nationalistic approach, very discriminatory approach,” and he made reference to the fact that former Acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana, a Belizean, was never officially appointed as the country’s Chief Justice — just one instance of what he claims is a pattern of Belizeans being overlooked for permanent positions.

He went on to decry the disparities between the salaries and employment packages offered to foreign appointees and those given to Belizean judges.

Barrow also highlighted the frustration within the legal community, noting examples of unfair treatment and inadequate pay for Belizean jurists. He called for a national vision that empowers and uplifts Belizeans, and pointed to the need to appoint indigenous Belizeans to high-ranking judicial positions.

Regarding the consultation process, Barrow said that a “tear letter” from the Cabinet Secretary is insufficient for such a crucial matter. He suggested that there should be a more solid process of advertisement for judicial posts to encourage Belizean applicants.

In response, Stuart Leslie, Cabinet Secretary, defended the government’s position, explaining that it has always been standard practice for the Cabinet Secretary or the Prime Minister’s office to sign off on such appointments, asserting that that is just the way the government works. He further suggested that Barrow consult with senior members of his party who are familiar with government procedures.

He emphasized that the procedure followed is not an insult or oversight but part of a longstanding governmental protocol.

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