Supreme Court Justice Courtney A. Abel of Guyana this morning slammed what he described as a “culture” of adjournments that leads to a backlog in the legal system, in the face of a persistent appeal by Government-affiliated attorneys to have a lawsuit put off until Parliament can pass retrospective legislation that would render the challenge to the cruise tourism head tax nugatory.
The strategy was to have the case put off until Parliament sits on Friday, June 26 – but the judge, who reluctantly agreed to a one-week adjournment, adamantly insisted on having the matter heard before Parliament meets.
“They will do what they have to do; I will do what I have to do,” Abel said.
“This culture of adjournments in Belize has to stop…,” he commented. The judge noted that attorneys show great ingenuity in coming up with reasons for seeking court adjournments.
However, he said, when this causes things to get backed-up, the very same attorneys turn around and complain about the backlog.
“Perhaps you are happy with it, but I am not…” Justice Abel said.
Rodwell Williams, SC, partner in the firm of Barrow and Williams, the Prime Minister’s law firm, which is representing Fort Street Tourism Village, told Justice Abel that the Court of Appeal was advised during case management sessions that the case had already been listed before Abel for June 11 and 12, and the court had indicated that their matter would be heard near the end of the session. However, when the schedule was released, their matter was listed for the very first week of the appeal session, resulting in a clash with the case before Abel.
Hawke noted that usually, the Court of Appeal hears criminal matters during its first week of session, but they are, instead, now hearing civil matters.
The case for which Williams had to appear in the Supreme Court is a civil claim in the matter of Roberta Richmond against Belize Aquaculture Limited, in which he is representing the appellant.
“We can’t run a legal system with one side clashing with the other,” said Abel, adding that an arrangement should have been made to work around the Supreme Court dates that had already been preset.
According to Hawke, the President of the Court of Appeal indicated that that court takes precedent.
However, Andrew Marshalleck, SC, appearing for Michael Feinstein against the Government instead of Senior Counsel Denys Barrow, said that Hawke does not have to appear in all Government matters and Rodwell Williams does not have to appear in all Barrow and Williams matters, just as he (Marshalleck) was representing the law firm of Barrow and Co. in the Feinstein case before Justice Abel.
Abel told the attorneys that it is incumbent on them to raise the issue of the clashing sessions before the Court of Appeal.
While the attorneys for the respondents persisted in their request for an adjournment, beyond the date of the House meeting, Justice Abel made it clear: “I am not concerned about any bill… Until something is passed, it does not exist, as far as I am concerned.”
The judge said that he does not want to get caught up in any reasons, arguments or excuses for an adjournment. He said that another point of concern to him is that when senior counsels persist in requests for adjournments, it sends the wrong message to younger counsels.
Abel also noted that he does not plan to reserve judgments in cases where he can render an immediate decision, and he may be able to issue a decision on the Feinstein vs. FSTV matter on the very day of the hearing—now rescheduled for next Thursday, June 18.