GOB Forced to Postpone April 10th Referendum
There will be no referendum on April 10. It has been postponed 6 to 8 weeks. Government was forced to do this after they were turned down today by the court of appeal - which refused to hear an appeal of the Chief Justice's decision without the required 21 days' notice.
We'll tell you all about that in a few minutes, but first to the Prime Minister who made the official announcement today that they will have to wheel and come again:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister:
"In consequence of what happened today we will be having a referendum on Wednesday April 10th. I am in no doubt that we will be having a referendum on going to the ICJ no later 6-8 weeks from the originally scheduled date."
The Court of Appeal Rejected GOB
So the takeaway from that is that there will be no referendum in April 10th - in the meantime the government will go to the house of representatives, possibly as early as Friday - and also to the Caribbean Court of Justice as soon as they can to get the Supreme Court injunction lifted.
And so, now, back to court, for the explanation of what forced the PM to postpone the referendum:
There was an entire day of arguments in front of the judges of the Court of Appeal.
Government went there to convince the panel of judges there to set the Chief Justice's injunction aside. But, the first issue that the Government had to contend with is that they needed permission from the court to bring the expedited appeal.
AG Weighs The Possibilities
Earlier in the day, we got a chance to speak with Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte about the progress of the legal arguments from both sides. Since no decision was made yet, The press questioned him about the possibility of the two outcomes: one in which the Government is successful, and the other - which has now happened - where the court refuses their applications.
Here's how that conversation went at the midday adjournment of Court:
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General:
"There are 2 applications. One is the notice of motion for expedited appeal, and the other one is the notice of appeal for the injunction itself. The Court of Appeal must first decide if they will even hear us on our disagreement with the Chief Justice that he should have granted the injunction. The Chief Justice granted the injunction, remember, and we want the Court of Appeal hear the merits of that issue only, and hopefully reverse it in our favor..."
Chief Elections Officer - Did AG Advice Put Her in A Position of Contempt?
And the frenzied preparations for the referendum, which has now been postponed, placed Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai in the crosshairs of the PUP.
You'll remember that email that she sent last week to all public officers shortly after the Chief Justice handed down the injunction.
It said, quote, "Based on legal advice, please proceed with all plans unless directed otherwise We need to be fully prepared in the event that the court informs that we proceed on April 10th."
She and her team were simply trying to be cautious and prepared in the event that the Government could reverse the injunction, but the PUP accused her of acting in contempt of court.
We also asked Eamon Courtenay, the attorney for the PUP Claimants, to discuss their dispute with that email from Chief Elections Officer Tamai. He said that it was important for his clients to put it before the Court of Appeal:
Eamon Courtenay, SC - Attorney for the Claimants:
"When an injunction is issued you are to obey it. On the say when the injunction was issued, on the advice of the attorney general, the chief elections officer ordered her staff to proceed with preparations. Now, we believe that was an important matter to bring to the attention of the court, because depending on fay you go and depending on what you do, it may amount to a contempt. The government of Belize whether it is the chief elections officer, the attorney general, the prime minister or whoever must respect an injunction issued by the chief justice..."
The April 10th Anticlimax
So, what happens to all the time and effort that went into preparing for April 10th? Well, from the Attorney General's perspective, it cannot go to waste.
He told us that it will be very expensive for all concerned to postpone, which is why the Government was fighting so hard to keep the April 10th date. Here's how he explained why:
"A lot of preparation has been put into making sure this referendum happens April 10th. A lot of time has been taken away from public servants in order for them to prepare for this referendum. We have all the observers, most of them are already in country. We have everything in place for April 10th to push it back to another date and we will if we have to, but to push this back another date would cause considerable expense and just overall, you know, it would be troublesome to have it beyond April 10th. If we have to, we have to, but it would be very uncomfortable and expensive to extend it some more time. So we are trying to preserve, save some money, save some harassment and have it April 10th if we can."
Will Postponement Slacken Domestic and Int'l Support For Referendum?
The Prime Minister also spoke about cost today and slackening support from the international community - and we'll have those remarks later, but, firsthere's what he had to say about the PUP's so far successful campaign to block the referendum:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister:
"All this is part of the Opposition's delay tactics and to my mind amount to an effort to stymie Belizean democracy, to deprive the people of this country of their right to choose. While I deplore what is happening on the part of the opposition and I should say what Michael Peyrefitte told me and what is given me leave to say that the leader of the opposition told him today "you can go to parliament to try to fix this" and it would appear, some people obviously think so, that it is an easy fix. But whatever you do we will oppose."
Will Judicial Setbacks Taint Confidence in Yes Vote?
Back now to the Prime Minister's press conference. WE asked him about the effect that successive losses in court have had on the "yes" t the ICJ campaign:
"This is the second court or second tier of litigation at which the government has not had the desired outcome."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister:
"Are you not concern about the taint that this creates, since the referendum is about going to court and we are stuck in court trying to go to court. People will may confidence and say well if you can't win here, how will you win there."
The Cost OF Postponing The Referendum
So, as we end the news tonight - we do so with the headline story - there will be no referendum on Wednesday April 10th. Government has to re-strategize and come again. This is after the Court of Appeal said it needs 21 days before it can hear any appeal of a Supreme Court decision.
So the Chief Justice's injunction against the referendum stands. To try and cure what the Chief Justice suspected may be lacking in the writ of referendum - government is getting ready to go to the Caribbean Court of Justice, to lift the injunction, and the House of Representatives to get majority support.
But., at what cost? And will there be money to keep up the education and the political campaign? We asked the PM today:
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