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Prime Minister Faces Backlash for Attack on Abel

Prime Minister Faces Backlash for Attack on Abel
March 02
12:39 2019

Prime Minister Dean Barrow, during an interview with the media last week, revealed that the government had filed a formal complaint against Supreme Court Judge Courtney Abel, who recently handed down a ruling in favor of Belize Bank in a case against the Tax Commissioner of Belize. According to Barrow, 95 percent of Abel’s rulings in cases involving the government are not in GOB’s favor but his comments have been described by the People’s United Party as an attack on the Judiciary and an attempt to undermine the rule of law.

Furthermore, according to Barrow, the government’s attorneys and legal counsel have complained of the treatment they have received from Abel. Barrow noted that GOB intends to appeal Abel’s ruling in the Belize Bank vs. Tax Commissioner matter, especially “since it came in circumstances where the bench appeared not just heedless of, but downright rude to the Crown and its law officers.”

“Justice is not a cloistered virtue and when there is what appears to be unremitting judicial hostility to litigants, when this goes beyond mere impatient descends into downright incivility…I will use my bully pulpit to speak out against that,” he ranted.

The PUP says the Prime Minister used his platform to launch a scandalous and contemptible attack against a sitting Supreme Court Justice which was deliberately designed to interfere with cases actually still before the Judge and is an attempt to intimidate the wider judiciary.

Referring to the record of mostly losses against wins in Court proceedings presided over by Abel, Barrow said it is a striking statistic and said it was startling. Barrow said mainly, the complaint was centered around the treatment of its attorneys, many of whom are young and new to the profession. Barrow said they complained of being treated dismissively and were “broken spirited” by the treatment.

“This has reached epic proportions in terms of the reports that have been given to me and to the Cabinet by the Attorney General. You can’t be a judge and think that you are immune from criticism if you behave in a way that deserved criticism,” Barrow stated.

The PUP also called on the Chief Justice to report the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for “appropriate action.” The party also recalled other instances in which Barrow defied judicial orders in the past, including the Caribbean Court of Justice’s arbitral award against GOB. It also mentioned Barrow’s attacks on Justices of Appeal, which “led to the resignation of Justice Mottley, and his attempt to stack the Court of Appeal with friends which led to action against the appointment of the unqualified Franz Parke”.

The party called on the Chief Justice to defend the Judiciary’s independence from the Prime Minister’s hostile attack and said the reassigning of any of Justice Abel’s cases would undermine the public’s confidence in the independence of the Judiciary and reward the Prime Minister for his contempt.

In January, Abel ruled in the Belize Bank’s favor after the Tax Commissioner refused to apply an offset of the bank’s taxes against the $90 Million UHS award owed to the bank by the government. Abel ruled that the Commissioner’s refusal to offset the tax was unlawful and ordered a stay on the Commissioner, effectively banning GOB from collecting taxes from the Bank until the UHS award is paid and settled.

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