9th Amendment; constitutional change can no longer be challenged in Courts

Dean Barrow

A frightening constitutional amendment, the ninth such, was tabled in the House of Representatives this morning for a first reading. It is by far, the most radical and far reaching amendment that any government in Belize has ever tabled. It appears that the Government of Prime Minister Barrow is intent on passing this amendment that is surely to have adverse consequences on the rights and freedoms of Belizeans. Barrow is proposing to amend section 69 of the Constitution which, sets out the procedure to be used when amending the Constitution. The effect of the change is that any future amendments to the supreme law of the land will no longer be open to review or challenge in the Courts. Originally, it was understood that the amendment was to prevent a challenge to the nationalization of B.E.L. and the re-nationalization of Telemedia. But the proposed amendment will have the effect of preventing any judicial review of the law of those nationalizations, and will also restrict the ability of the courts to hear any case in respect of those nationalizations. The wisdom of rushing this amendment at this particular time is under question because there are many more pressing matters of state, but the more troubling question has to do with the restrictions it will have on what has been traditionally guaranteed freedoms. Because the government has the numbers in the House, more than the two thirds of the seats required for constitutional changes, it can essentially approve the amendment which will make other draconian measures pale in the face of the proposed new law. Here’s what the Prime Minister is proposing.

Dean Barrow

“Section Sixty-Nine of the Constitution is hereby amended, remember that is the section that tells you how you amend the Constitution, well were amending that section itself merely by the addition of the following new subsection to Section Sixty-Nine. So after Subsection Eight this bill that I am introducing proposes a new Subsection Nine that would say this: For the removal of doubts, it is hereby declared that provisions of this section are all inclusive and exhaustive and that there is no other limitation whether substantive or procedural on the power of the National Assembly to alter this Constitution and a law passed to alter any of the provisions of this Constitution which is passed in conformity with the Section Sixty-Nine shall not be opened to challenge in any court of law on any ground whatsoever. The two amending clauses will have the effect of putting beyond argument what I always thought to be the true and obvious position that once a Constitutional Amendment Bill is passed in accordance with the stipulations laid down in Section Sixty-Nine as to how you pass such an amendment bill that is the end of the matter. Such a bill having satisfied the requirements in the Constitution as to how to alter the Constitution would clearly be good law and the amendment thus passed valid and of undoubted effect. But it has become necessary to spell this out in the detail proposed by Clause Two and Clause Three of the new bill we’re introducing. And it has become so necessary because great controversy developed not too long ago in a case heard by former Chief Justice Conteh. He accepted an argument that Section Sixty-Nine of the Constitution was only of procedural effect and that it did not allow for passage even though you complied with it scrupulously to the letter, that it not allow for passage without more of certain fundamental types of amendments to the Constitution.”

So, the new amendment is not confined to safe-guarding utilities, it extends to any future amendment of the Constitution. Say for example, if the Government amends the Constitution in the future to extend the term of a Government for more than five years, the Courts will not be allowed to declare that unconstitutional. The effect of the amendment is to remove the Constitution as the Supreme Law and to make the National Assembly Supreme.

Channel 5