This past weekend the People’s United Party held its national party council and coming out of that were several resolutions, one of which demanded that the law limiting access to the Sarstoon River be rescinded. It seems that the demands were just the beginning for the PUP. Today they announced that the Opposition Party leader John Briceno has filed a claim challenging the constitutionality of the Statutory Instrument. Attorney Andrew Marshalleck is the legal advisor for the PUP.
“A claim was filed yesterday challenging the constitutionality of the Sarstoon Law. This is the statutory instrument that was recently passed that you’re well aware of that restricts freedom of movement within an area of the Sarstoon river. The claimant is John Briceno and the main defendant in the claim are the Attorney General and The Governor General of Belize. The basis of the claim is really straightforward and simple. As you all are well aware the constitution guarantees Belizeans’ right to freedom of movement within the territory of Belize subject of course to a number of restrictions. These restrictions are laws making reasonable provision in the interest of for instance, public safety. Restricting movement in the interest of public safety so the Public Safety Act is one of the laws that the constitution allows for restrictions to be placed on the freedom of movement in certain circumstances.”
Governor General Sir Colville Young signed the SI into law, citing the risk factor of civil commotion that could result in a threat to public safety. The PUP says there is not any risk to public safety.
“The law itself is predicated on whether or not the determination that existed such a risk is justified and the challenge to the constitutionality of it lies in the simple contention that there really was no risk of any civil commotion threatening public safety. Now civil commotion is a legal term; there’s common law defining it and what it means in the main is an insurrection of the people that’s little greater than a riot and a little less than a civil war. We’re saying that there never was any risk of that and there was no rationale basis on which the power to pass an SI to restrict freedom of movement could validate and justifiably be passed.”
By the time the claim reaches its peak in the court, the Statutory Instrument would have already been dissolved leaving the PUP filling against a law that isn’t there. Attorney Marshalleck says they have considered the time frame involved.
“That is a practical consideration and one that we bear firmly in mind. The consequence of it is very likely, in fact near certainty that by the time the claim comes on for hearing the law would have been effectively spent in that thirty day period for which restriction is the last would have expired . What that means is that the consideration of the legality of it then becomes somewhat academic in that the court is being asked to consider the legality of a law that’s no longer enforced well in practical terms.”