The UNIBAM Case Has Its First In Court - 01/31/12 03:09 PM
They're trying to have Belize's buggery laws taken off the books - while the Churches are fighting to uphold God's law.
And while there has been passionate public debate and protest, the battle hasn't even really started. The case went to court today for the very first time - and as might have been expected, the power of prayer was brought to harness.
But while that happened outside, inside the courtroom of Justice Michelle Arana, the attorneys for the Churches, Michel Chebat, Rodwell Williams and Jackie Marshalleck - as interested parties - argued that UNIBAM had no standing to bring the case, because as an organization it has no constitutionally guaranteed rights. Additionally, they argued that their experts had not been properly brought before the courts.
For its part, the UNIBAM attorney Lisa Shoman and Simeon Sampson argued that the Churches - as only an interested party - had taken over the right of the real respondents in the case which is the Government of Belize. A point which was later contradicted by the Attorney General's Ministry represented by Nigel Hawke.
Arguments took all day to be heard - but the monochrome hearing of all these technical preliminary matters was coloured by the Christian observers who - though few in number - had a strong presence.
Here's our report:..
Pastor Scott Stirm, Jubilee Ministries, Belmopan
"So Lord we receive your strength today; we receive your legal strength. Lord we pray for Michel Chebat. We pray for Rodwell Williams. We pray for Jackie Marshalleck, Lord God."
Jules Vasquez reporting
There was powerful prayer this morning in the open air and the shadow of the Supreme Court building.
A circle formed which seemed to marry prayer and protest, or prayerful protest and singing as well as they processed past the courthouse.
From there the prayer circle moved in front of the courtroom where an intense small circle gathered.
And on the other side of the courthouse, patriotism, prayer and protest mingled in a chorus of voices; here they read bibles not lawbooks.
Upstairs near the courtroom they also had a prayerful presence, while the lawyers and activists milled about, eventually leaving for an early adjournment due to blackout.
But arguments resumed in the afternoon, and went on until 4:40 pm - with the judge reserving judgment until a later date. It's only a preliminary skirmish but both sides would only express only measured optimism.
"You think UINBAM will survive as an applicant withstanding?"
Lisa Shoman, SC Co-counsel, UNIBAM
"It really matters not whether UNIBAM survives as an applicant. This case will go on. I rather suspect that it at this point almost doesn't matter how the judge rules. There may very well be an appeal in either case. Suffice it to say that the claimants really want to get the case heard, and it is no part on the intention of the claimants to have the matter drag on and on. He'd like to get the matter before the courts. There are several options that we have open, and we will look at them when that arises because - as you can appreciate - there is no way to tell, and I don't like guessing as to how the judge will rule."
"However, do you expect that eventually your experts will be accepted?"
"I expect so, one way or another, yes."
"What is the prospect for an early hearing of this matter?"
"I would hope very good. It really will depend on the court, and they've had quite a bit of argument and material placed before them. But I know that the courts are quite aware that this is an issue which needs to hear with some rectitude, so I am not concerned about that. I am sure it will be heard as quickly as possible."
"Simeon, you've been at this court for years. I don't think you've even attended a court hearing where there has been singing and praying in and around the courtroom."
Simeon Sampson, SC, Co-Counsel Churches
"Well I know that you assume that, but you are only associated with criminal matters. This is an intellectual exercise; it's a human rights issue. I've been involved with human rights issues in Belize for 20 or so years. When I get involved I always try to ensure success. It only just began; we have a long way to go."
Rodwell Williams, SC Co-counsel, Churches
"Our application was that that organization had no standing and we believe we have made reasonable arguments to support that request that it be struck, and that certain affidavits that are effective were given. And contrary to the rules without the leave of the court, and so on, and that those also should be struck. And I feel reasonably confident about the applications and the prospect of success. Of course, litigation has it risks, but we believe that as interested parties we have standing to bring that application - as you would readily appreciate. Interested parties have appealed decisions of this court all the way up to the Privy Council. There is no good reason to say that interested party because you are so call interested party you can make substantive application."
"Are you all trying to have this matter thrown out on preliminary technical matters?"
"The application is only against UNIBAM. So if UNIBAM goes the matter is still extant."
"Do you think it's a matter from your experience that will be heard expeditiously or will it be sometime before we get to the actual substance of the case?"
"What matter will be heard?"
"The substantive matter of the constitutionality?"
"I suspect that that is some date in the future. How? I don't know. You've heard the judge said that she will return a ruling as soon as she has one and then we go from there."
As we noted in the story, Justice Michelle Arana has reserved Judgment which will be delivered at a date to be announced.