Said Musa wins 1st round; CJ grants judicial review

Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh today granted former Prime Minister Said Musa judicial review of Magistrate Earl Jones’ decision to commit him to stand trial in the Supreme Court. Musa is charged with Theft in connection with a gift of ten million US dollars from Venezuela to the government of Belize, an issue that has dominated the news for more than a year. Today Lawyers for Musa presented their arguments on several grounds: that Magistrate Jones erred on February tenth when he took into consideration inadmissible evidence; that he wrongly assumed jurisdiction; that the decision was irrational and unreasonable since he did not commit Ralph Fonseca, who was facing the exact same charge to stand trial. In making his ruling, the C.J. said “I am satisfied that permission should be given to review the Magistrate’s decision. The Magistrate wrongfully assumed jurisdiction. The decision was irrational and I therefore grant permission, having read the papers and listened to the arguments”. And while Musa remained calm in court as the ruling was being delivered, outside he spoke briefly of his optimism, while two of his lawyers, Lisa Shoman and Anthony Sylvestre Junior explained how they managed to convince the court to rule in their favour.

Lisa Shoman, Attorney for Said Musa

“The CJ pointed out that it is not always usual to grant judicial review leave in this kind of circumstances, meaning in looking to quash a Magistrate’s Court decision. But in this case there were some very important circumstances which he looked at which we filed all the affidavits and all the papers for and which we were relying on to get permission on. That’s why he has granted us leave to seek judicial review. It’s not a matter of the flood gates being opened but a matter of the particular circumstances in this case why permission for judicial review has been granted.”

Anthony Sylvestre, Attorney for Said Musa

“The documents before the court, really and truly, are not in the proper form. So based on that the court was obliged and the court felt in the circumstances to grant leave. We’ve said from the outset that there is no case against Mr. Musa and what transpired today and the Chief Justice’s granting of permission to review the decision of the Magistrate is proof that there is not any case against Mr. Musa.”

Lisa Shoman
“It is a confirmation that indeed our case is as strong as we had always said, that it is and it is not simply not a matter of the Magistrate looking at evidence which is inadmissible. That is one thing, and certainly bad enough. But under the circumstances relying on the fact which were relied on, as you know Mr. Fonseca has been discharged. And as we have been saying all along, Mr. Musa should not have been committed to stand trial in this manner. And we are going to look forward to arguing the full panoply of the grounds before us and we feel extremely confident about that. What you have seen here today is certainly confirmation that the D.P.P. and anybody else acting on the government’s behalf knows very well that not only do we have a very, very strong case to stand but really, they would not have been able to proffer too many, if at all, compelling reasons why leave should not have been granted.”

Said Musa, Granted Judicial Review
“Am very pleased that we passed the first hurdle. But of course the substantive arguments are still to be heard.”

And while the Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lyn Branker-Taitt, was otherwise occupied and not present in the C.J.’s court, her representative, Prosecutor Priscilla Banner, provided a typed letter from the D.P.P. requesting for an adjournment early in the morning. That letter, written on the Attorney General’s office letterhead, prompted the C.J. to state his views that using a letterhead that was not of her own office suggested that her office was not acting independently. The matter was initially adjourned until three this afternoon but during the break, Crown Counsel Banner met with Lead Attorney for Musa, Senior Counsel Edwin Flowers to inform him that the D.P.P. had decided to concede that leave be granted for Musa to be allowed Judicial Review. The case was then pushed up to eleven-thirty this morning and dates were set for written submissions to be filed by April twentieth and the hearing for April twenty-seventh.

Live and let live