December 23, 2007

Opposition Blocks CCJ Bill - Belize

UDP says nay to CCJ
Source: Belize News
Published: 21/12/2007

Attorney General, Honorable Francis Fonseca, called the UDP all kinds of less than flattering things for their past reluctance to follow the PUP lead on the CCJ (Caribbean Court of Justice) bill. Maybe the spleen was also for foreseen intransigence on the UDP’s part once again. But, we have to wonder how serious the government was about getting the CCJ bill, which would have made that body the final appellate court for Belize, passed into law in the House on Wednesday, December 19, 2007.

Ordinarily the ruling PUP would have needed only one swing vote from the Opposition’s side of the House, but with two of their own (Honorable Ainslie Leslie, and Honorable Marcial Mes) missing, they had to call on three Opposition members to break ranks to give the bill the needed three-quarters majority to make it law*.

Outside of ire directed the UDP’s way, the AG found time to give a brief history of the CCJ, beginning from a call in the Jamaica Gleaner way back at the turn of the last century. He described the CCJ as “a unique judicial institution”…”relevant to the region”…a body designed to be an arbiter of economic disputes in the Caribbean. With the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME) coming to the fore, the CCJ was necessary - “the ideal institution” to realize harmonious judicial interpretation.

And there was no fear that the judges at the CCJ would be biased because the court would realize its sustenance from a trust fund set up specifically for that purpose. Don’t be on the “wrong side of history again,” he warned the UDP. “Will Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition continue to shamelessly hang on to the coattails of the Privy Council and continue to question the capacity of Caribbean Judges vis-à-vis their British counterparts?” he asked. “Abolish the Privy Council, bring on the Caribbean Court of Justice!” the AG concluded.

Shadow Minister of Education, Honorable Patrick Faber, the first to respond to the Attorney General, charged him with “attacking the Opposition before he can even find out what position we are going to take…” But the UDP was about to take the same position they had the last time the CCJ bill was brought to the House. Honorable P. Faber accused the government of “acting in bad faith,” of “trying to railroad the people,” and questioned why the Coast Guard Bill, a bill that the UDP had no problem in supporting, had been tied in to the CCJ Bill.

Honorable Michael Finnegan said that the government had no leg to “talk about law and order when your AG (former Attorney General, Richard Bradley)” had orchestrated the “removal of Chief Justice (Justice Manuel Sosa) from the Supreme Court.” He called the PUP a “hypocritical government” that “respect(ed) orders from the Supreme Court only when it suit(ed) them.”

Honorable Ralph Fonseca called the UDP’s statements “absolute nonsense.” “Only your leader (Honorable Dean Barrow) has no problem with the Privy Council,” he said, and warned that the UDP was “going to go down in history with severe black eyes,” if they rejected the CCJ Bill and the Coast Guard Bill. Honorable Jose Coye pleaded: “Let those of the same environment…be the final judges for us.”

And Prime Minister Musa accused the UDP of being an “Opposition that doesn’t really understand its identity.” The UDP were “against Central America,” he said, and “now they are showing they are against the Caribbean.” This decision to sign on to the CCJ was “born out of history,” and “the time has come to remove the umbilical cord…” he implored the House.

All 19 government representatives in the House voted aye. But the three-quarters majority needed to carry the CCJ bill failed once again as the UDP representatives stood against, all 8 of them voting nay.

P. S. In a telephone interview this afternoon, Honorable John Saldivar, the Area Representative for Cayo South, told us that to his knowledge a vote in the House for a constitutional change would have to have reflected a three-quarters majority of the present membership of the House, 29. Thus the PUP would have needed 3 UDPees to bolt on Wednesday to pass the CCJ bill into law.

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