The former Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin was found to have acted unlawfully when he decided to exclude the Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl Lyn Vidal from the Judicial Legal Services Commission which he (Benjamin) chaired. The commission is made up of several key persons in the judiciary including Vidal in her capacity as the President of the Belize Bar Association. Back in 2019, the Belize Bar Association sued Benjamin for his decision. For context we bring back the explanation given by Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck back in November 2019.
Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney at Law: “The Judicial and Legal Service Commission is governed by the provisions of the constitution. The constitution itself provides for who is to sit on the commission. It provides that the Chief Justice shall be the chairman, that the chairman of the Public Service Commission, the Solicitor General and the DPP are to sit as members. It also has a section that goes on to disqualify certain people from sitting but the disqualifications are subject to subordinate to the qualifying provisions and the language in the qualifying provisions is indeed mandatory that the president of the Bar must sit. Let me a raise the question rhetorically for you. The Chief Justice is a public officer as Chief Justice so too is the Solicitor General, how come this disqualifying provision doesn’t apply to them ? Why is it that only the DPP gets shown the door ?”
As we noted the removal has been deemed unlawful. According to Marshalleck there was also an application for the judgement in cases reviewed during Vidal’s exclusion be deemed invalid.
Andrew Marshalleck, Attorney at Law: “In October we challenged the correctness of their view that Mrs.Vidal was disqualified. We say that on a correct interpretation of section 110 of the constitution she was qualified and it was mandatory that she sit and participate in decisions of the commission. We also challenged the legality of the decisions made during the period while she was unlawfully excluded from participating in the commission. That was argued in January I believe and a decision was given this morning. We still don’t have a copy of full written reasons, the judged explained by video link this morning that while she agreed that it was unconstitutional for the Judicial and Legal Service Commission to exclude Mrs.Vidal from the meeting because the constitution does mandate that she be a part of the commission she was denying all the relief claimed by the Bar because she says that Bar delayed too long in complaining about the wrong and that the consequences of the wrong could potentially result in chaos. The difficulty I have with the decision or understanding the decisions is that while the judge went on to find that in her view so long as there was a quorum on the commission all the decisions of commission was valid she also went on to find that if she were to grant relief as to the unconstitutionality of the exclusion of Mrs.Vidal from the commission some chaos would result. I must confess I am unable to connect those dots, we will need to see the written decisions to see how that’s rationalized. The other concern I have is that it seems to me that what the decision does is to focus attention away from the wrongdoing and the wrongdoer and instead focus on the victim and to suggest that because the victim didn’t behave in a certain way the wrongdoer should go scott-free. I think that approach leaves a lot to be desired.”
Moving forward, the Bar Association will be reviewing the written reasons and making a decision as to whether or not they want to take the claim further. They will have 21 days of the order of the court being perfected to make an appeal.