Powerhouse attorneys appeared before Justice Westmin James in a case brought by Senior Customs Officer, Ian Haylock after he was passed up for promotion to Comptroller of Customs. Former Prime Minister Dean Barrow and former Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley explained that Haylock has been personally affected by this decision. Attorney Barrow added that Prime Minister’s Briceno’s advice to the Governor General on the appointment of a new Comptroller of Customs was completely flawed and was in violation of the constitution. Barrow went on to state that sufficient time was not given to the Public Services Commission as a letter was not sent to them until December 24 with a request for a response within five days. The attorney noted that this time given to the commission did not meet the constitutional requirement. The hearing concluded just after five o’clock this evening. We were able to meet with Attorney Darrell Bradley who explained that they are seeking a stay on the appointment of Estelle Leslie as the Comptroller of Customs.
Darrell Bradley, Attorney: “Because it is still before the court in terms of just, I can’t get into too much detail, the judge at the conclusion of the matter reserved his decision and he’s gonna render a written decision on the 9th of February. The judge needed to take time because the hearing actually went on for a period exceeding about three and a half hours so there were extensive arguments on both sides. Essentially it is a claim for judicial review seeking certain declarations in relation to the manner in which the post of Controller of Customs was re-designated. Originally that post was a 106 post according to the constitution meaning that the appointment is made by the Public Services Commission under established protocols and under the Public Services Regulation. There’s actually a specific circular, circular 22 of 2010 which deals with the manner in which the appointment is to be made through the Public Services Commission and basically what happened is that, that post, the post of Comptroller of Customs was reclassified on December 31 2020 from a 106 post to a 107 post and posts appointed under 107 of the constitution are appointed by the Prime Minister himself – sorry they’re appointed by the Governor General acting on the advice of the Prime Minister. So essentially the effect of that reclassification was to move the post of Comptroller of Customs from a post that came through the appointment of the Public Services Commission to a post that’s directly appointed by the Prime Minister but through the Governor General of Belize and there is a requirement in law that when you’re going to do that reclassification there has to be consultation with the Public Services Commission because essentially what you’re doing is that you’re changing the terms of an office in Her Majesty’s public service and we’re saying essentially that there was no consultation. We’re also claiming other arguments in relation to bad faith and so forth and we’re asking for certain declarations to be made in relation to that reclassification and the appointment and we’re asking for it to go back to the Public Services Commission so that it can follow in what we say is the proper process.”
Reporter: What were arguments given by the government ?
Darrell Bradley, Attorney: “Well the arguments for the government essentially were that it’s an academic point. They argued that notwithstanding the fact that there is a requirement for consultation the result would have been the same and we say that that really undermines the principle of the rule of law. We are a democratic society and the constitution is something that is sacrosanct, it’s something that is to be followed and essentially what we maintain is that the provisions for consultation there’s actually two provisions and there’s a provision in the constitution that says that whenever any person is required to consult that consultation must be genuine. So those provisions are mandatory not merely directory in terms of the constitution and they establish what we say are essential preconditions for the exercise of any power to give advice or to carry through with an appointment and where those preconditions are not carried through the appointment is void and we say further that there’s a risk also because if a person holds an office that is found to be invalidly held there are consequences in relation to what decision that person would make in that office and so we feel that it is a serious issue, we feel that there are constitutional imperatives here and we feel that among other things the duty of consultation as is provided for in that section of the constitution is mandatory and it creates a mandatory precondition; the violation of which would render the appointment void.”
Haylock’s attorneys are arguing that in the natural course of things he should have ascended to Comptroller based on seniority and qualification. As it relates to the consultation with the Public Services Commission, the Assistant Solicitor General Samantha Matute-Tucker argued that the commission had indicated that they had been non-functional for some time. In speaking with Attorney Darrell Bradley he explained that his client is hoping to get interim relief and that the matter is allowed to go to the Supreme Court for judicial review.
Darrell Bradley, Attorney: “This is at the leave stage, this is at the preliminary stage in terms of judicial review and we are asking the court for an order of permission to proceed to acclaim for judicial review. So there are certain procedural requirements that we would have to meet. We’re also asking for interim relief, we’re asking for an interim injunction and a stay and we’re asking for the matter to be remitted to the Supreme Court for it to be determined substantively. We think that there are serious questions there in relation to the constitutional provisions including this issue of consultation. We think that it is appropriate because Belize is a rule of law state and there are issues here in relation to what processes are followed if you are dealing with the constitutionally entrenched public service. This is an office that is within the remit of the public service, to change that is something that you should not do lightly we would argue.”
The case will resume on Tuesday, February 9. Representing the government in the case is Crown Counsel Jorge Matus while the appointed Customs Comptroller Estelle Leslie is represented by Attorney Andrew Marshalleck.