February 25, 2010

House vets replacement of Privy Council with CCJ

Source: Belize News
Published: February 23, 2010
The House of Representatives on Friday approved the replacement of the Privy Council, the final appellate court in Belize, with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The legislative backing for the change comes from amendments to the Belize Constitution (in the 7th Amendment Bill), as well as the revocation of the Privy Council Act.

Even though Prime Minister Dean Barrow had signaled the removal of the dual citizenship portion of the constitutional amendment, in response to fierce and vocal opposition to it on the home front, the proposal, nonetheless, consumed a large part of the debate.

The Opposition People’s United Party was castigated from across the floor for its position to not support the dual citizenship amendment, and was told that they have no regard for Belizeans in the “diaspora.”

Prime Minister Barrow commented that the dual citizenship feature has already been introduced into the OECS’ (Organization of Eastern Caribbean States) constitution, and was there in Belize’s pre-independence constitution.

As the law now stands, a person born in Belize who acquires citizenship in another country cannot run for office. The ruling party claimed that the amendment was crafted to give these Belizeans an opportunity to actively engage in governance, to become representatives in the House, or to be appointed to the Senate. However, there were many Belizeans who had questions over where the allegiance of a person with dual nationality would lie.

Regarding the replacement of the Privy Council as Belize’s final appellate court, the amendment to the constitution and the repealing of the Privy Council Act was done, said Barrow, to implement the CARICOM agreement establishing the CCJ.

The other aspect of the constitutional amendment had to do with the appointment of an Attorney General for Belize.

Under existing laws, the Attorney General must come from either the Senate or the House; however, the amendment would enable the Prime Minister to choose a private practitioner to fill the post, without requiring that person to be a member of either houses of Parliament.

The Attorney General, a trained lawyer, himself weighed in and supported the amendment. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, who also serves as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, said “…if the Prime Minister [is able] to bring in independent people, people who had already done well, who are competent, who are capable, experienced as Ministers, then we wouldn’t have a problem with corruption.”

Elrington also claimed that only about 2% of all attorneys are “really good” and “really capable of, in fact, doing a good job [for] their clients.”

Despite current speculation that the post would be given to Lois Young, whose firm Prime Minister Barrow said Friday is the government’s top choice, giving value for money, Barrow had told us in a prior interview, when the amendment was first publicized, that he was not carving out the provision for Ms. Young.

In June 2009, he said thathe has no intention of changing the current AG, Wilfred Elrington, but he is making the legislative changes to allow the Government to select from the ranks of the practitioners a top professional who doesn’t want to be caught up in the “hurly burly” of the business of the House and Senate.

Said Musa, former Prime Minister and member for Fort George, questioned Barrow on whether he was moving the system from a parliamentary to a republican system:

“The Attorney General, in the final analysis, like any other Minister, must be answerable to Parliament if it is to be a parliamentary democracy. ...So where is the representative democracy? Where is the parliamentary democracy once you appoint an AG from outside?”

The constitutional amendment, which covers the provisions for the CCJ and the appointment of the Attorney General, went through its third reading with approval, but has yet to be passed by the Senate.

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