Tonight, the ninth amendment is law. It was signed by the Governor General just after 3:00 this afternoon. That's after the Court Of Appeal handed down its decision at 2:15 pm. The Panel of Justices Sosa, Morrison and Pollard refused the interim injunction requested by Vaughan Gill and Ricardo Castillo.
A temporary injunction had been granted yesterday by a single judge of the Appeal Court, Douglas Mendes which blocked the government from signing the bill into law.
But with today's judgment, that was set aside, that way was cleared, and Government moved immediately to sign the ninth into law - which now becomes the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, since the original Eighth Amendment has been permanently withdrawn.
But that's a technicality; the broad stroke of the Barrow Administration to enshrine public majority ownership of all utilities has been affirmed - after 95 difficult days of debate, discussion and argument.
Co-Counsel for Gill and Castillo Godfrey Smith was defeated but not dissuaded:..
"The outcome was a sort of "dog bites man" it was sort of expected."
Godfrey Smith, SC Attorney for Vaughan Gill, Ricardo Castillo
"Yes it was sort of expected."
Marion Alley, reporter
"It was something that you were expecting. You haven't disputed this."
Denys Barrow, SC Government's Attorney
"Anticipated it not with any certainty but because of what Justice Mendes had decided. He had decided as we discuss yesterday that there is no real prospect of success on this appeal which let us remember was an appeal against the refusal of the Chief Justice to grant an interim injunction."
"We may not have succeeded in getting the injunction in the terms we wanted but political judgment awaits the governments on its decision to ignore the wish of 21,000 people for a referendum."
"A claimant should not or cannot ply the judiciary in a political way, when one has fail at a political level to block something the judiciary should not be engage in the restraining of that legislative imperative."
Denys Barrow, SC Government's Attorney
"There is a case - I think it's by the Irish Supreme Court. The name of it is "Cahill against Sutton" and it speaks to the need for courts to not allow their process to be used for political purpose. Now of course there are many legitimate instances where what is a political purpose is also a legal or justifiable basis for a complaint but we are saying in this particular case and the Attorney General files an affidavit yesterday indicating that these two persons who have brought the claim are known operatives, known officers, functionaries that are at high level in the opposition People's United Party and you see the quality of the representation that they have. I am one of the most expensive attorneys in Belize and I don't think I charge 1/3 of what the attorney that they brought from England charges."
"So can we speak clearly now - the matter having been exhausted - the 9 being a statuary instrument?"
"I thought I was speaking very plainly."
"But you are speaking about claimants who we know cannot afford to retain Lord Peter Goldsmith or your good self. These claimants are just phantoms - really it's a matter being persuade and brought by the Ashcroft Alliance."
"I deny that assertion and state simply as I said to you before that people should be distracted by these tangential issues. The issue fundamentally is there is a piece of legislation that the governments pass to say that they want to empower the people and their call upon to do it. There are two issues; one is should the referendum have been held before the passage? The other fundamental one is; should the government hold it any at all and they are saying, raising all sorts of complaints - "look you don't have it in the proper form. if you do it, it wouldn't make sense afterwards" so please, that is the fundamental and core issue."
"Well then if it's such a fundamental issue, should you all not since you are so proficient at gathering signatures - should not have embark upon it July 25 and have concluded it by August 25 and then you would have force the government....."
"No man, I've heard that argument made and I think it doesn't make sense. It doesn't make sense because the Bill was enacted on July 22, now you know that a number of organizations started to discuss things with the government, so you just don't spring up and embark on that."
"This being the last gasp and the last person blocking the gate towards the 9th symbolically. Is there a feeling of being crestfallen now that the 9th despite all best efforts the extraordinary hearings on the weekends has already been perhaps made into law?"
"Negative, not crestfallen because I think as I said on a previous interview - we did not succeed with the injunction but I think this whole processes encouraging and should be inspiring for Belizeans. This is testing of the democracy. This is testing the institutions given to the people under the referendum act, the judiciary, everything and even parliament was halted for a day. It's still a historical thing."
Marion Alley, Reporter
"The substantial case as it relates to the Supreme Court now, what happens here?"
"I don't know if they will abandon that. It doesn't seem to make any sense in terms of trying to stop the 9th Amendment. So the questions whether they still want a referendum is for them to decide."
"In relation to the 9th itself, it may be passed by will it survive? An important question, constitutional challenge can be brought."
And while we would have wished to ask Vaughan Gill how he afforded Lord Peters Goldsmith's astronomical legal fees, the man called the agent literally ran from our camera when he left the courtroom this afternoon. We note that he and Castillo appeared in court only on the first day of the Supreme Court hearing, and only Gill appeared for the end of the Appeal Court hearing today.
There was no order as to costs meaning each side will bear its own costs.
Works Minister Boots Martinez who sat in on three days of the hearing - which is more than we can say for many of our media colleagues - told us that the case seemed to be all about political mischief.
Hon. Anthony Boots Martinez - Pleased with Court's decision
"I wanted to know that if at any time my reading and interpretation of - as a member of the National Assembly was wrong but I was almost 100% certain that my reading is OK. You don't have to be an attorney to read simple words and interpret simple words and so I understand that in my view this whole scenario was just a case of mischief."
"You think this is all a phantom game or a shell game where the claimants aren't really the claimants? with greatest respect to Vaughan Gill and Ricardo Castillo - I don't think they could afford Lord Peterson."
Hon. Anthony Boots Martinez
"All of us know and like rightfully it's a political game and the claimants can't afford brother Goldsmith maybe they might be doing pro bono but I don't see how they are doing pro bono just like that. But apart from that I am saying that only the cost of them coming to Belize in my view - the cost of a plane ticket from here to England - only the cost and you see they bring entourage with suitcase and so. I think that in my view that I would want to see government get awarded cost because it's in my view it's a political case and its strikes to the heart of democracy."
But speaking more broadly about the issue of referenda - and the role they play in a democracy, and to policy makers - Martinez gamely conceded that maybe it's time that the referendum process be made binding:..
Hon. Anthony Boots Martinez
"My own common sense - I have been saying it over and over again that the point of a referendum that is not binding is of no use. I think if people want to look and see where you might need 99% of the National Assembly to change portions of the referendum, let us look at that. If you want to look on having referendum being binding then let us look at that."
"I think maybe what we need to look at is ways of changing how we do those things but we can't bury our heads in the sand and continue saying no to the 9th Amendment."
So that's it for the Ninth - or as it's now called, the Eighth Amendment. It is finished; it is the Supreme law, and an extraordinary gazette declaring it so is expected to be printed tonight.
Of course, as Smith alluded to, that's hardly the end of it, the Ashcroft Alliance is sure to mount a new round of legal challenges to its constitutionality.