At 2.15pm this afternoon in courtroom No. 1 the Chief Justice of Belize, Kenneth A. Benjamin entered the packed courtroom which was standing room only, with many members of the PUP, the media and other concerned Belizeans.
After a 40 minute explanation of his decision, the Chief Justice gave his decision about the claim brought before the court by several PUP claimants, which was represented by senior counsel Eamon Courtenay. The Chief Justice granted the claimants request for an injunction to the ICJ Referendum that is scheduled for April 10th.
In his decision presentation the Chief Justice referenced several other cases, including territorial disputes and judicial rulings, including rulings in the European Union, Slovenia and the Caribbean Court Of Justice.
The main argument made by the claimants was that the Government was not empowered to enter into a Special Agreement in December, 2008. Although, during the presentation of his decision the Chief Justice declares the power of the Executive (ie: the government) to enter into referendum agreements.
What is alarmingly uncertain is that no other date was declared for the referendum to be held, or to indicate a timeline for the challenge to the governments executive power to be heard at a later date.
In the Courtroom and on the street outside the court the PUP supporters and attorneys were jubilant and shouted in approval when the statement granting the injunction was announced by the Chief Justice.
The uncertainty of what happens next is a sea of unknown possibilities or a Chasm to nowhere, and the legal tug-a-war seems to have just began.
Shortly after the news broke of the injunction, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said that the war is far from ended. While he was quite clear in stating that he is extremely disappointed with the decision of Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, Barrow also pointed out that they are in the process of taking three measured steps to ensure that there will be a Referendum on April 10th.
CJ Grants PUP Injunction Against April 10th Referendum
Tonight, the ICJ referendum is in limbo - and no one can say for sure whether it will or won't happen as scheduled on April 10th - which is next week Wednesday. This is after an earth shattering decision this evening by Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. He granted the PUP an injunction restraining Government form going ahead with the referendum.
But, still, that doesn't mean it won't happen - and, at this hour, there are more questions than answers.
And we'll address all of it for you tonight, to try and get some clarity if you should get ready to vote "yes" or "no" next week.
Counsel For GOB Says It's Only a Postponement On the other side, lead Attorney for the Government, Lisa Shoman said the PUP has only successfully managed to get the referendum postponed, and nothing else as yet.
Speaking on the judge's ruling, she also asserted that the PUP had no success with their main legal arguments. Here's how she explained why:
Lisa Shoman, SC - Attorney For GOB:
"I'm a bit disappointed. Of course, I want first of all to emphasize that we succeeded on the first ground. That is the Chief Justice said that there is no serious issue to be tried..."
PM Says Lost A Battle, But Not the War, Pushes Forward to April 10th And while the lawyers for both sides have a clinical perspective - and even the government attorney have sort of accepted a postponement of the referendum, not so for the Prime Minister!
This evening at an emergency press conference, hastily called after the earth shattering judgement, the Prime Minister said he was floored at hearing the judgement, but is determined to somehow still have it on April 10th. Here's his plan:
Is Referendum Vote Without A Count Tenable? So, as you heard the Prime Minister explain, now that the Government is restrained by the injunction, they are already making counter-maneuvers to possibly get around it and push on with the ICJ referendum next week, as planned.
Here are attorneys for both sides speaking on that approach:
Lisa Shoman, SC - Attorney For GOB:
"We are asking for 2 things at this point, applying to the court for a variation. And we've indicated that the variation would be, since nobody know's whether it's yes or no, let's go ahead with our referendum on April 10th, but the Chief Elections Officer wouldn't certify the results..."
Was The Writ Wrong? And the PUP successfully argued to the Chief Justice that the Prime Minister didn't properly follow the law when he sent the Writ to the Governor General for a signature. A technical defect in the writ of referendum was what ultimately convinced the Chief Justice to grant the injunction. Today, the Prime Minister said he followed the advice of the Chief Elections Officer:
"Sir if you could speak on the alleged procedural effect that you brought the writ under - I'm not expert in it but what we heard in court, 2-1D - when it is being argued..."
High Court Hail Mary?: PM Thinks Judge Can Pull Thru With A Decision By Tuesday So now, only the Chief Justice can determine if there will be a referendum on April 10th. He's having a hearing on Monday April 8th, and if he gives a judgement by the 9th - and it favors the government - then the injunction will be lifted, and the referendum will go through. That's a lot of if's - and today the Prime Minister said he has confidence in the CJ:
"Are you disappointed - we know you've been very outspoken about the performance of the bench but are you disappointed that the judge in the balance of interest would stop this huge locomotive which is called the ICJ referendum, which has been going down the mountain for so many years."
PUP PO'd With Lisa Lisa Shoman will remain government's lead counsel in this case - which has earned her the ire of her party, the PUP. Today, her former colleague in the Senate, who's now arguing across the table from her, says Shoman has made her decision:
Eamon Courtenay, SC - Attorney for the Claimants:
"It seems to me, very clear. She has made common cause with the UDP. She is now working with the UDP. She's now being paid by the UDP. She is for the UDP. There are consequences for your decisions and your actions. That's all I am going to say about Miss Shoman."
PM Will Stay The Course With Shoman As Lead Lawyer But, despite the slings and arrows from her former colleagues, Shoman is undaunted, and with everything now moving full speed ahead to Monday's hearing, the Prime Minister says she will continue to lead the charge:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister:
"If there is anybody else who can come in and get up to speed on the double - we would clearly look at that because this is of such an earth shattering importance that the more hands on deck, the better.."
PUP Leader Says Not Time to Gloat And while the UDP Leader is firm about Shoman's leadership of the case, her party leader Briceño was vague about the implications for her. But, he was more forthcoming about the favorable outcome of this injunction hearing.
He said that he will not gloat:
John Briceño - Leader of the Opposition:
"Certainly, I don't think it is time to gloat. We're standing up for the Belizean people. But I want to make 3 basic points. 1 is about legality, certainty, and respect. Legality, we've been saying from the beginning that this whole process that the UDP has taken is illegal, Secondly, there must be certainty in what we are doing..."
Referendum on April 10th? Government Says It Has A Chance
It's only 6 days to April 10th. And everyone wants to know what will happen with the referendum - will it go through, or will it be postponed?
Tonight, there are still no clear or easy answers - but there is new information.
First, for the background: yesterday, the Chief Justice stunned the government when he granted the PUP an injunction against the ICJ referendum.
It looked like a slam dunk for the opposition, but as you saw yesterday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow quickly called a press conference to say he's determined to see it happen - one way or the other - while respecting the court.
Tonight, the plan on how they hope to do that is becoming more clear - even as the possible outcome is still very much uncertain.
The Attorney General's staff has come up with several options to get around the injunction. The first course of action being considered was to go back before the Chief Justice with an application to adjust - or vary - his ruling.
The idea would be to go ahead with the referendum, but it would not be finalized until the Chief Elections Officer, Josephine Tamai, certifies it. In that way, the referendum's results would be frozen until the PUP lawsuit is heard to completion and disposed of.
The other option is to just go straight to the Court of Appeal for an emergency hearing and attempt to convince the panel of judges there to lift the Supreme Court injunction.
Well, 7News has confirmed with multiple sources, that the Barrow Administration has decided to go with that option. We are told that the Crown Counsels from the AG's Ministry worked late into the night to prepare the documents so that a prompt filing at the Appeal Court could take place before 10 this morning. Those documents have been filed, and it is now in the hands of the Appeal judges to decide on a date for what the government hopes is a very urgent hearing.
Attorney General Michael Peyefitte was in the Supreme Court yesterday and he discussed the prospects of simply going straight to the Court of Appeal:
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General "We plan on appealing the decision, so I don't want to comment on the details of it until the matter has been completed and the process has been drawn to its conclusion in the courts."
Reporter "Were you at all prepare for such an outcome today?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General "Absolutely. I've already signed the appeal forms and those will go in no later than tomorrow morning and hopefully we can get a hearing before the court of appeal before April 10th."
Reporter 'What do you make of the fact that now that this injunction is in place, it could take months or years before an actually referendum takes place since this case has to go to completion first?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General "The People's United Party would have to explain that to the people. They decided to challenge the holding of the referendum on April 10th. If it gets delayed because of this years and years to come, then that's a question for the PUP."
Reporter "Having heard the position of the chief justice as you sat in there, do you grasps the points that he was making?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General "I heard what he was saying. I respect what he said, but I totally disagree."
Reporter "What's happens now? Does preparation still continue as schedule until the outcome of tomorrow?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General "We have to. We understand fully well that the court of appeal may hear this matter before April 10th. We have to continue as we were and hope that we can get a date before the court of appeal and we have to continue, because the court of appeal may very well reverse what the chief justice said. We don't know. They may affirm what he said, and then we have to make preparations for some time down the road until the matter is fully ventilated, or we may have to make preparations for the fact that the court of appeal could say that the chief justice was wrong and then we proceed with the referendum on April 10th."
The Government still hopes to meet the April 10th deadline, and so that emergency Court of Appeal hearing could take place almost immediately.
So what will happen next? A few minutes ago, governemnt sent out a release laying out what it hopes is a best case scenario.
It says, quote:
"The Chief Justice's injunction ruling means that the April 10th referendum is to be postponed until a further order of the Court. The Government of Belize (GOB), however, is appealing the decision of the Chief Justice and asking the Court of Appeal to overrule that decision so that the referendum can still take place on April 10th. GOB is asking the Court of Appeal for an expedited hearing with the hope of having the appeal heard by Monday, April 8th.
If the Court of Appeal agrees to hear the case, there may still be a referendum on April 10th depending on the outcome. If the Court of Appeal ruling comes out before April 10th and reverses the Chief Justice's ruling, the referendum will proceed. The Court of Appeal can discharge the injunction, in which case the referendum would proceed. The referendum will only remain delayed if the ruling comes out before April 10th and upholds the injunction.
Since the only issue the Court of Appeal may find is that the procedures to announce the referendum were not fully proper as per procedural technicalities, the referendum would not be cancelled or deferred to another year. It is the view of the GOB that a worst-case scenario is that there may have to be a Meeting of the House of Representatives to ensure that all the technicalities are done properly. In that event, the referendum would be delayed for no more six to eight weeks."
So there you have it, what government hopes is the best case scenario.
We'll keep following it closely, to tell you whether next week's Referendum is a go or no go.
Government of Belize Explains the Supreme Court’s Ruling on the International Court of Justice Referendum
On April 3, 2019, the Chief Justice Hon. Kenneth Benjamin delivered his ruling on the injunction case on the referendum planned for April 10, 2019 brought before the Supreme Court of Belize by the Opposition Party. The Opposition had asked the Supreme Court to stop the referendum because they contend that there are serious issues to be tried. The main points presented to the Court by the Opposition were:
I. A substantive point, that the 2008 Special Agreement was illegally and unconstitutionally approved; and
II. A technical point, that the Writ of Referendum (formal written order) was not done properly as per the Referendum Act.
In response to those two points, the Chief Justice ruled that:
I. The 2008 Special Agreement is valid because it was properly executed. The Chief Justice rejected this substantial point.
II. However, the Chief Justice agreed that a technical point, as to the validity of the Writ of Referendum, is a serious issue that should be tried and, therefore, granted an interim injunction until trial of this technical point.
The Chief Justice’s injunction ruling means that the April 10th referendum is to be postponed until a further order of the Court. The Government of Belize (GOB), however, is appealing the decision of the Chief Justice and asking the Court of Appeal to overrule that decision so that the referendum can still take place on April 10th. GOB is asking the Court of Appeal for an expedited hearing with the hope of having the appeal heard by Monday, April 8th.
If the Court of Appeal agrees to hear the case, there may still be a referendum on April 10th depending on the outcome. If the Court of Appeal ruling comes out before April 10th and reverses the Chief Justice’s ruling, the referendum will proceed. The Court of Appeal can discharge the injunction, in which case the referendum would proceed. The referendum will only remain delayed if the ruling comes out before April 10th and upholds the injunction.
Since the only issue the Court of Appeal may find is that the procedures to announce the referendum were not fully proper as per procedural technicalities, the referendum would not be cancelled or deferred to another year. It is the view of the GOB that a worst-case scenario is that there may have to be a Meeting of the House of Representatives to ensure that all the technicalities are done properly. In that event, the referendum would be delayed for no more six to eight weeks.