Latest — 09 March 2019 — by Rowland A. Parks
PUP files constitutional challenge to the Special Agreement, seeks injunction to stop ICJ referendum

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 6, 2019– The People’s United Party (PUP) announced today, via a press release, that it has filed a claim at the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutional validity of the Special Agreement that the Dean Barrow-led United Democratic Party government signed in December 2008, committing Belize to hold a referendum to determine whether to take Guatemala’s claim to Belize’s territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The PUP’s legal challenge is also seeking an injunction to stop the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum from being held on April 10 on the ground that there are no provisions in domestic law for the holding of such a referendum.

The claimants are five PUP parliamentarians and one standard bearer: Hon. Mike Espat, area representative for Toledo West; Hon. Oscar Requeña, area representative for Toledo East; Hon. Rodwell Ferguson, area representative for Stann Creek; Hon. Cordel Hyde, Deputy PUP Leader and area representative for Lake Independence; Hon. Julius Espat, area representative for Cayo South; and Anthony Mahler, PUP standard bearer for the Pickstock constituency.

The PUP press release explained that the party had filed a claim in the Supreme Court, “seeking legal certainty and clarity if the Minister of Foreign Affairs had the power to legally bind Belize to the Special Agreement and the Protocol without prior legislative approval.”

Additionally, the PUP are also asking for legal certainty on whether “the Referendum Act provides for the holding of a binding referendum as required by Article 7 of the Special Agreement.”

Additionally, the release stated, “The PUP will seek orders to restrain the holding of the proposed referendum until the court has had the opportunity to make a determination as these issues have serious domestic and international consequences for the nation and people of Belize.”

In the past, the PUP leader, Hon. John Briceño, area representative for the Orange Walk Central constituency, had asked Prime Minister Barrow to postpone the April 10 ICJ referendum. PM Barrow, however, has absolutely rejected the suggestion of postponing the referendum.

“In a letter sent to the Prime Minister today, the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John

Briceño, requested the Prime Minister to postpone, in the national interest, the holding of the referendum until the Supreme Court can hear the claim and deliver a decision. This request, he stated, was done ‘in light of the very weighty constitutional issues surrounding this process and the doubt which attend the validity of the process,’” the press release said.

Recently, a trio of attorneys, Anthony Sylvestre, Dickie Bradley and Kareem Musa, along with other attorneys, put forth a Joint Legal Opinion on the Special Agreement which, based on their research and precedents found in the British Commonwealth jurisdiction, including cases in Belize, posited that when Belize Foreign Minister, Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, signed the Special Agreement as a member of the Executive branch of government, he assumed powers which properly belong to the Legislative branch, thereby breaching the separation of powers principle.

It is on the basis of the Joint Legal Opinion that the PUP has filed their urgent constitutional claim in the Supreme Court, which will now set a date for the hearing of the claim.

The Joint Legal Opinion on which the constitutional challenge is based, points out that when the Minister of Foreign Affairs signed the Special Agreement (Compromis) as a member of the Executive, he committed the country to the ICJ process.

The PUP is of the view that by engaging in that process, however, the Foreign Minister has transferred the constitutional responsibility of Belize’s legislators to the ICJ, which potentially could result in the re-alignment of Belize’s boundaries, defined in the Constitution of Belize.

Only a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Representatives could amend the Constitution of Belize. The Joint Legal Opinion, therefore, highlights a constitutional breach of Legislative powers by the Executive when it entered into the Special Agreement with Guatemala without legislative approval, in breach of the separation of powers outlined in the Belize Constitution, says the party.

The Judiciary, which is tasked with interpreting constitutional matters and which functions to provide the necessary checks and balances in Belize’s system of governance, is now being asked to step in and decide the constitutionality of the Special Agreement.

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Deshawn Swasey

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