The Prime Minister spoke about two significant judgments coming out of the courtroom of Supreme Court justice Oswell Legall in the last two weeks. The first declared offshore oil contracts null and void. The Prime Minister minced no words in condemning that judgement.
Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"The two instruments of appointment that were being quarreled over - the judges had already demitted office. Where the sting comes in is by way to what I consider to be dicta of the judge, talking generally, saying of course that our changing of the constitution to say where there are open instruments after the change, they last for a year - that is unconstitutional. He could only do that because he subscribes to this basic structure doctrine which I believe is rubbish. It is currently before the court of appeal for a ruling and which in my view; the judge ought to not have pronounced on again since the ruling of the case is finished. The ruling is imminent and i'm sure if we don't get it before then we'll get it by June when the court of appeal comes back. But he could only have done that because he subscribes to this basic structure doctrine. When he says 'Generally court of appeal judges' well to be consistent with security of tenure - the constitution doesn't say how long they should be given; he will reason by analogy and say it should be up by 75. Well certainly this government is not going to pay attention to that because as far as we are concerned that is Dicta. That is not to be found within the four corners of the constitution."
The other judgment had to do with security of tenure for judges. Justice Legall chastised government for overstepping its bounds as the executive by varying the tenure of high court judges. But today the PM criticized Legall for overstepping his!
Hon. Dean Barrow
"Our concern and where we think the judgment is grievously wrong and I say this with the greatest possible respect, was when he conflated the application for a PSA with a contract. Our worry is those with a particularly intent would try to apply this to terrestrial PSA's - he said that there is a need for an EIA under the law as he read it and understood it before you award a PSA; the Environmental Protection Act does say that you must have an EIA once u are intending to proceed with a project. The PSA is not the project and the law does say as soon as someone is granted a PSA, the minister can require an EIA. For him to say that 'No the EIA must come even before you grant the PSA’ makes absolutely no sense at all in my mind. I've seen our grounds of appeal and I believe that the lawyer described that as an aberrant ruling - I am baffled at how the judge could arrive at the position he did at that regard. Suffice it to say the grounds of appeal have already been filed and the skeleton arguments have been prepared because the lawyers felt that it was light work to do so since the errors were so patent and so multiple."
Of significant note is that Justice Legal whose contract expires next month on his 68th birthday wrote to the governor general last week saying he does not wish to seek a renewal.