Ashcroft Alliance fails to unseat judge Print E-mail
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Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 22 June 2017 00:00

The Ashcroft Alliance has been blocked from meddling in the affairs of the Belize judiciary, for now. Justice of Appeal Samuel Awich, who Lord Michael Ashcroft himself was attempting to get removed from the bench, will stay where he is. The Court of Appeal has ruled that the complaints from the Alliance against this sitting judge have no real merit.

The appeal is of another case which Justice Courtney Abel heard in the Supreme Court. The Alliance complained to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC), asking them to seriously consider their opinion that he was unfit for the Appeal Court bench. Their premise was that he performed inadequately as a judge of the Supreme Court. Among other things, they asserted that he delayed for unreasonably long periods of time when delivering judgments on cases he had heard.

Readers will remember that the Alliance has been on a sustained push against Awich since 2012, when they first wrote to the Commission. When that failed, they went to the Court of Appeal, and tried to pressure him into recusing himself from a BTL acquisition appeal in which they were litigants. That was a problem of their making; they picked a fight with the judge, and lost. They went all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice, which ruled against them on their push to get him to recuse himself.

The first punch they threw at Justice Awich was a strongly worded letter to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission in July of 2012. In that letter, the Alliance wrote, “…It is clear that Justice Awich should never have been appointed as a Justice of Appeal on account of his misbehavior and further, in the alternative, for inability to discharge the function of his office.”

Having carefully reviewed the complaint, the Commission ruled, “The view of the Commission is that: the Complaint was directed to matters relating to the performance of Justice Awich in his previous position of Justice of the Supreme Court and had no relation to his present office of Justice of Appeal rendering the Complaint misconceived and premature with respect to the office of Justice of Appeal; and the decision to appoint a Justice of Appeal resides with the Prime Minister and the Belize Constitution does not countenance the participation of the Commission or the Bar Association in that process.”

The JLSC threw their complaint out, and so, Dean Boyce, British Caribbean Bank - which has been renamed Caribbean Investment Holdings Limited - and Lord Michael Ashcroft sued the Commission. They said that their complaint against Awich should have been sent up to the Belize Advisory Board. After hearing the case, Justice Abel ruled in 2014 agreeing that the commission made the wrong decision.

He ordered that, “The Claimants’ Complaint … is referred back to the … Commission for it to reconsider its position in view of the above declarations and in accordance with the law and with a view to further conducting its enquiry and arriving at its own lawful determination.”

The Prime Minister disagreed with that judgment from the Supreme Court, and the Commission  appealed the decision. The Appeal Court heard the case on March 14, 2016, and on last Friday, June 16, the court returned with a decision.

Appeal Court Judge Hafiz-Bertram said in her judgment, that the judge’s order is not an appropriate one. She said, “It is obvious that the Commission was being ordered to reconsider the matter based on the findings of the trial judge. In my opinion, the judge erred in so doing as the Commission cannot be directed by the court in its decision making. The power of the Commission to consider the removal is given by section 102(3) of the Constitution and it had made its decision on a preliminary point and not on the reasons given in the complaint.”

She also said that in her opinion the judge ventured out of his jurisdiction. Her judgment says, “The judge below then wrongly considered the facts in the complaint and made findings on those facts. Thereafter, he ordered the Commission to consider the complaint based on the declarations and the law. In my opinion, he erred since he had no jurisdiction to consider the facts in the complaint and make findings. This error made by the trial judge is sufficient to set aside his decision in its entirety.”

So, the Ashcroft attack on the Judge has failed at the first court of appeal, which has completely reversed the findings of the Supreme Court. The Judicial and Legal Services Commission decision has been vindicated, but the Ashcroft Alliance can appeal to the Caribbean Court of Justice. One hopes that these litigants will allow the matter to rest, instead of dragging the judge’s appointment into more disrepute by challenging it further.