Supreme Court Grants Oceana Permission for Judicial Review

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June 20, 2012
Belize City, Belize
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Justice Michelle Arana today heard arguments on whether or not to grant permission to Oceana, Audrey Bradley and Tom Greenwood to proceed to make an application for judicial review to the court. The applicants sought permissions to have the court review the decisions of the Chief Election Officer, relayed through the Governor General that some 8,047 petition signatures were “unreasonably” disqualified under the Referendum Act.

On May 4th, 2012 Oceana filed application for permission for Judicial Review and this application was objected to by the Government. As presented in court today by Andrew Bennett, Crown Counsel in the office of the Attorney General, there were three grounds for those objections: that the application was out of time, that the application must be verified by evidence in affidavits, and that the affidavits were not frank, and called into question the integrity of the petition drive.

Senior Counsel, Godfrey Smith, who represented the applicants, opened his submissions by stating that the purpose of the hearing was simply for the Judge to ascertain whether or not the applicants had an “arguable” case; in addition, it was to prove that the application was not frivolous and whimsical matter being brought about by some busybodies. He pointed out that the applicants are saying that the manner in which the Chief Elections Officers determined that 8,047 signatures where disqualified was “unreasonable” and went against the spirit of the amended Referendum Act as pronounced by the Prime Minister. He argued that the onus was on the Chief Election officers to ensure that the verification process was not “unreasonable” because the decision was one that would have affected the signatories’ statutory right, and furthermore could have resulted in disenfranchising the signatories’ participation in a process that would strengthen the value of democracy.

He further pointed out that the Referendum Act does not call for a mere verification process, but for a “verification of the signatures of the petitioners and certification that at least ten percent of the registered electors in the country have in fact appended their signatures to the petition.” Thus, it should have been established as a fact that persons whose named were on the forms did in fact sign, which could not be done by a mere signature comparison.

After some two hours of hearing arguments from both sides, Justice Arana ruled that she was satisfied that the Applicants had proven that they had an arguable case, and thus granted permission for judicial review.

The applicants will now file their application for full review by the court of the decision of the Chief Election Officer, at which time the substantive legal issues will ventilated.