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#429147 - 01/31/12 09:09 AM The UNIBAM Case Has Its First In Court
Marty Offline
UNIBAM's challenge to the constitutionality of section 53 of the criminal code has set off Belize's first culture war - with the Church on one side and Caleb Orozco and his supporters on the other.

They're trying to have Belize's buggery laws taken off the books - while the Churches are fighting to uphold God's law.

And while there has been passionate public debate and protest, the battle hasn't even really started. The case went to court today for the very first time - and as might have been expected, the power of prayer was brought to harness.

But while that happened outside, inside the courtroom of Justice Michelle Arana, the attorneys for the Churches, Michel Chebat, Rodwell Williams and Jackie Marshalleck - as interested parties - argued that UNIBAM had no standing to bring the case, because as an organization it has no constitutionally guaranteed rights. Additionally, they argued that their experts had not been properly brought before the courts.

For its part, the UNIBAM attorney Lisa Shoman and Simeon Sampson argued that the Churches - as only an interested party - had taken over the right of the real respondents in the case which is the Government of Belize. A point which was later contradicted by the Attorney General's Ministry represented by Nigel Hawke.

Arguments took all day to be heard - but the monochrome hearing of all these technical preliminary matters was coloured by the Christian observers who - though few in number - had a strong presence.

Here's our report:..

Pastor Scott Stirm, Jubilee Ministries, Belmopan
"So Lord we receive your strength today; we receive your legal strength. Lord we pray for Michel Chebat. We pray for Rodwell Williams. We pray for Jackie Marshalleck, Lord God."

Jules Vasquez reporting
There was powerful prayer this morning in the open air and the shadow of the Supreme Court building.

A circle formed which seemed to marry prayer and protest, or prayerful protest and singing as well as they processed past the courthouse.

From there the prayer circle moved in front of the courtroom where an intense small circle gathered.

And on the other side of the courthouse, patriotism, prayer and protest mingled in a chorus of voices; here they read bibles not lawbooks.

Upstairs near the courtroom they also had a prayerful presence, while the lawyers and activists milled about, eventually leaving for an early adjournment due to blackout.

But arguments resumed in the afternoon, and went on until 4:40 pm - with the judge reserving judgment until a later date. It's only a preliminary skirmish but both sides would only express only measured optimism.

Jules Vasquez
"You think UINBAM will survive as an applicant withstanding?"

Lisa Shoman, SC Co-counsel, UNIBAM
"It really matters not whether UNIBAM survives as an applicant. This case will go on. I rather suspect that it at this point almost doesn't matter how the judge rules. There may very well be an appeal in either case. Suffice it to say that the claimants really want to get the case heard, and it is no part on the intention of the claimants to have the matter drag on and on. He'd like to get the matter before the courts. There are several options that we have open, and we will look at them when that arises because - as you can appreciate - there is no way to tell, and I don't like guessing as to how the judge will rule."

Jules Vasquez
"However, do you expect that eventually your experts will be accepted?"

Lisa Shoman
"I expect so, one way or another, yes."

Jules Vasquez
"What is the prospect for an early hearing of this matter?"

Lisa Shoman
"I would hope very good. It really will depend on the court, and they've had quite a bit of argument and material placed before them. But I know that the courts are quite aware that this is an issue which needs to hear with some rectitude, so I am not concerned about that. I am sure it will be heard as quickly as possible."

Jules Vasquez
"Simeon, you've been at this court for years. I don't think you've even attended a court hearing where there has been singing and praying in and around the courtroom."

Simeon Sampson, SC, Co-Counsel Churches
"Well I know that you assume that, but you are only associated with criminal matters. This is an intellectual exercise; it's a human rights issue. I've been involved with human rights issues in Belize for 20 or so years. When I get involved I always try to ensure success. It only just began; we have a long way to go."

Rodwell Williams, SC Co-counsel, Churches
"Our application was that that organization had no standing and we believe we have made reasonable arguments to support that request that it be struck, and that certain affidavits that are effective were given. And contrary to the rules without the leave of the court, and so on, and that those also should be struck. And I feel reasonably confident about the applications and the prospect of success. Of course, litigation has it risks, but we believe that as interested parties we have standing to bring that application - as you would readily appreciate. Interested parties have appealed decisions of this court all the way up to the Privy Council. There is no good reason to say that interested party because you are so call interested party you can make substantive application."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you all trying to have this matter thrown out on preliminary technical matters?"

Rodwell Williams
"The application is only against UNIBAM. So if UNIBAM goes the matter is still extant."

Jules Vasquez
"Do you think it's a matter from your experience that will be heard expeditiously or will it be sometime before we get to the actual substance of the case?"

Rodwell Williams
"What matter will be heard?"

Jules Vasquez
"The substantive matter of the constitutionality?"

Rodwell Williams
"I suspect that that is some date in the future. How? I don't know. You've heard the judge said that she will return a ruling as soon as she has one and then we go from there."

As we noted in the story, Justice Michelle Arana has reserved Judgment which will be delivered at a date to be announced.

Channel 7

#452871 - 12/06/12 07:57 AM Re: The UNIBAM Case Has Its Day In Court [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

UNIBAM Regains Ground In Court

The last time we told you about the UNIBAM constitutional challenge, they had suffered a minor loss to the Churches and the Attorney General Ministry.

The attorney for the Churches, Michel Chebat, was able to successfully argue before Justice Arana that UNIBAM be removed from the case as the second claimant for highly technical legal reasons.

It meant that the Caleb Orozco, the organization's Executive President, being the first claimant, was the only one who could continue the challenge.

Well, today, the matter went back to court, and UNIBAM's attorney, Lisa Shoman, made 2 applications before Justice Arana, the main one of which to get UNIBAM to join the case once again.

The position is that this organization represents over 100 persons who wish to remain anonymous, but believe that at section 53 of the constitution violates their rights to have sexual relations with same sex partners.

Shoman was successful on those 2 applications, and outside of court, 7News asked her and Orozco about the importance of today's outcome.

Here's what they said:

Lisa Shoman - Attorney for UNIBAM
" The previous ruling was that UNIBAM as an organization had no rights, especially no rights of privacy, no rights relating to how they conduct themselves sexually. As an organization, the organization does not actually reproduce or have sexual rights, so therefore, the organization was struck off. This application was different. It is saying that the members do have those rights and want UNIBAM to represent them. Essentially, what it has come down to is that UNIBAM has been appointed not as a representative claimant, but as an interested. It is now exactly on the same footing as the churches, no different. It will have every single right that the churches have to make arguments in this case. I am sure that everyone will have realized that the active defence in this matter are really the churches, not so much the Attorney General's Chambers. They are the ones - I think - who are more passionately interested - if that's the word - and so, UNIBAM is now back in the case on exactly the same footing as the churches."

Daniel Ortiz
"Before this case arose, no one knew of UNIBAM. What sort of status does it enjoy legally?"

Lisa Shoman
"It's a registered company, a registered association. It has a membership of over 120 persons. And in the affidavits that we put before the court, all of that was set out, including the type of advocacy work that it does, which is mainly for the MSMLGBT population in Belize."

Caleb Orozco - Executive President, UNIBAM
"Justice isn't as swift as one would think, and so, you have to have a strong stomach to deal with some of the challenges that come with bringing a case. I am able to do this because nobody will fire me. I am able to do this because - I am able to operate in an organization because I know who the landlord is. And so, I have a great deal of responsibility come down on my shoulders to represent those who could lose not only those basic rights to education and shelter, but basic rights to security, which I personally have experienced over the last few years. So, at the end of the day, what boils down to is whether or not you're stubborn enough to put up with the slow grinding process of the judicial system, or whether you'll be afraid and cover your tail."

Lisa Shoman
"Let's remind the public of one thing, it is during the course of already filing this case that Mr. Orozco was assaulted, and had teeth broken and severe bruising to his face. He was assaulted in the street by persons simply because he was identified as a member of the LGBT population in Belize. So, there are not too many people who feel secure enough, or who feel safe enough to come forward and allow themselves to be identified individually. You could ask the same of the churches. Why haven't individuals come forward and ask to be joined individually."

The substantive matter in this case will be argued to completion on May 7 to May 10 of next year.

Channel 7


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