How many pending cases does the Ashcroft Alliance currently have against the government of Belize? You'd probably need two hands, two feet and a tail to count them all! But the last word on one highly technical one came down last week from the Caribbean Court of Justice. It is an appeal from the government of Belize against the Alliance, represented in this case by 20 respondents. The Alliance had won a partial victory in the Belize Court Of Appeal when they challenged the constitutionality of two Amendments to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, both relating to criminal contempt of court.

The government went to the CCJ which found that there were inconsistencies in the law but, in their words opted to use quote, "a scalpel, rather than a machete to sever that which is inconsistent." They concluded that the legislation is constitutionally valid save for some parts. And so, they removed one of the 16 subsections and amended another. Today Denys Barrow, who represented the government said that it is a significant victory for the government..

Denys Barrow, attorney for Government of Belize
"Contrary to the decision of the Court of Appeal, the Caribbean Court of Justice decided that those sections which were struck down should be restored and they are therefore now part of the law of Belize."

"The Ashcroft group argued that this law, the law itself targeted was directed at Lord Ashcroft's group or enterprise. The difference is that the terms of the law as distinct from what the Prime Minister said in the National Assembly when he explained why the law was being passed. The terms of the law did not reflect what the Prime Minister said. The terms of the law reflect a general legal preposition or principle which is that any person whatsoever who violated by disobeying the terms of a supreme court injunction was guilty of contempt of court and exposed to these far more severe penalties than existed before."

With the changes, there is now no minimum fine for persons found guilty under the act when it was originally $50,000 up to $250,000 dollars. As it relates to companies, the minimum fine of $100,000 was removed but the fine may extend to $500,000 and if the offence continues there be an additional fine which may extend to $300,000 for each day the offence continues.

But apart from fine tuning the law, the judges also made another important declaration as it relates to parliament's power to make laws or even amend the constitution. We don't want to take you to law school here, but there's a principle called the basic structure doctrine. It originated in India and it says that cannot be altered by Parliament. Former Chief Justice Conteh was a proponent of it - and it has been much employed by attorneys in Belize - particularly those who opposed the famous but forgotten ninth amendment - which later became the eighth amendment.

Well the Judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice agreed with Belize Court of Appeal Justice Mendes when he said that that the role of the judiciary is not to second guess the elected representatives on the question of what purpose it is appropriate for legislation to serve. That does not directly address the basic structure doctrine, but it does glance at it. Barrow explained the significance.

Denys Barrow, attorney for Government of Belize
"What gives any court the right when the constitution says that the legislature can make law for the peace, order and good government of the country? What gives any court the right to say we the court will decide what is going too far in terms of what is for the peace, order and good government of the nation? The CCJ in fact now in a very decisive way said that those words; the words which enable the legislature to pass a law - those words are words of the greatest possible amplitude. They are not words of limitation but they are words as it were of extension. They are words which are intended to be all encompassing."

"Although I don't think they referred specifically to the basic structure doctrine, the implication is very clear. The basic structure doctrine is a doctrine of limitation and the CCJ has said that there are no limitations on the power of the legislator to legislate except those which are specifically contained in the constitution section 68 of the constitution. The legislator can pass any law which they decide as the representative of the people of the country is for the general good for the country of Belize."

Channel 7