Back in 2008, the Government of Belize brought about the sixth amendment. As part of that amendment, there was a portion that allowed the Government to appoint judges on short term contracts. It was a move that the Bar Association of Belize had disapproved of and therefore in 2010, they took the matter before the courts claiming that the amendment was unjust and did not provide security for the appointed judges. The first instance of the matter was presented before Justice Oswald Legall and it was ruled that the amendments were indeed unconstitutional. But it didn’t end there as the Government of Belize through its Attorney General, appealed Legall’s ruling and that appeal concluded today when the Belize Court of Appeals upheld the amendments. Senior Counsel Michael Young spoke to the media shortly after the ruling was handed down.
SENIOR COUNSEL MICHAEL YOUNG
“The state of the Constitution, as originally passed in 1981, was that Justices of the Court of Appeal would be appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition for such period as may be specified in the appointment instrument. That sixth amendment to the Constitution – what that did was to provide for the situation where the period of appointment was not specified in the instrument; where that happened then, by this amendment, the period of tenure for the judges would be deemed to be one year. In the circumstances you had sitting Justices of the Court of Appeal who had defective instruments of appointment which did not include the periods of appointment and so in effect it meant that their indefinite term would expire after one year. The Bar Association challenged this on the basis that it was a fundamental attack on the legal system and the judiciary. They filled their claim; the judge at the Supreme Court agreed and we appealed and I’m saying that on the government appeal, I argued the case and the Court of Appeal this morning struck down the judgment of the court below and allowed the appeal; in effect dismissing the claim by the Bar Association. In effect what the Court of Appeal is saying in this important judgment is that the amendment to the Constitution in no way undermines the security of tenure for judges.”
Young also told the media that the sixth amendment was in no way contravening the principles when it comes to the independence of the judiciary. The court issued an executive summary today on the ruling. It is uncertain whether the Belize Bar Association will be taking the matter further to the Caribbean Court of Justice.