BELIZE CITY, Fri. Mar. 8, 2019– Two weeks ago, as he addressed the Business Forum in Belize City, Prime Minister Dean Barrow unleashed a series of comments that were critical of Supreme Court Justice Courtenay Abel, which prompted the Opposition, the People’s United Party, to describe him in a Belize Times headline as being “in contempt of court.”
Today, from the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice issued a press release on the matter.
At the center of the Prime Minister’s expressions of disapproval of Justice Abel is a judgment against the government in favor of the Belize Bank. Justice Abel ruled that the Belize Bank could withhold taxes to the government against the government debt to the Belize Bank for the UHS government loan guarantee which has been thoroughly litigated, the latest ruling being the Caribbean Court of Justice order to pay the bank.
Government is planning to appeal the judgement, which resulted in a loss to government of $14.1 million in taxes from the bank — something the Prime Minister has lamented.
“The judicial decision that enabled this is absolutely going to be challenged by GOB, especially since it came in circumstances where the Bench appeared not just heedless of, but downright rude to, the Crown and its law officers. Justice is not a cloistered virtue, and when there is what appears to be unremitting judicial hostility to litigants, when this goes beyond mere impatience into downright incivility, absolutely upsetting the equilibrium of especially young Crown Counsels and lawyers who spend a world of time preparing their arguments only to be dismissed in the most slighting manner, I will use my bully pulpit to speak out against that.
“And I will tell you, I am not just doing it today. We have officially made a complaint about that type of behavior. A particular judge, we have gone over the records and apart from the fact that our Crown Counsel and law officers have complained loud and long about the way they are treated. We also see that perhaps ninety-five percent, maybe even ninety-nine percent, result in a loss for the Government. It can’t, well let me be very, very careful about what I say. There may be all sorts of reasons for that, for the record which I won’t go into, but certainly, it is startling,” PM Barrow said at his Business Forum on February 21.
In its press release today, the Supreme Court said, “The Belize Constitution has conferred on the Supreme Court of Judicature unlimited jurisdiction to adjudicate on any civil or criminal matter. Every Justice of the Supreme Court has sworn to uphold the Constitution and the law conscientiously and impartially, regardless of the status of any litigant and every decision of any such Justice is open to review by a dissatisfied litigant to superior courts – including in relation to the unfairness of the court’s process.
“In the light of recent comments in the public domain, it is important to stress that the Judiciary remains resolute and committed to delivering, and as appropriate, improving a standard of justice of the highest competence that is fair, transparent, and accessible to all persons regardless of their status or standing in society based on the merits and the facts and applicable law of the case.”
The Supreme Court’s press release added, “In the discharge of its functions, the Judiciary is not exempt from fair criticism, which will enure to greater efficiency and openness to improved service and accountability.
“In its continuous pursuit of excellence, the Judiciary remains bound by the values of integrity, independence, propriety, impartiality, equality, competence and diligence and accountability as espoused in its Code of Judicial Conduct and Etiquette and the internationally accepted Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct.”
The release ended saying, “In the same manner that respect towards the Bench is expected, the public and practicing Bar are assured that discourtesy from the Bench is neither acceptable nor to be condoned. Judicial conduct falling short of expected standards should be reported to the Chief Justice and definitive complaints in writing will be investigated with due process by the Chief Justice or the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.”