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Mistress Of The Brief !

Mistress Of The Brief !
April 07
14:14 2019

By Major Lloyd Jones

“Yes, we have retained Miss Shoman’s law firm and of course, we are paying her as would pay any other lawyer. Quite frankly, given how much work she is doing and how much she is master or mistress of the brief; I personally feel we are not paying her enough”
— PM Dean Barrow, January 9th, 2019

No person shall be qualified to hold the office of Attorney-General unless he is a person who has for at least five years been entitled to practise as an advocate in a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or in the Republic of Ireland or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court.
The Belize Constitution, Section 42 (3)

The Barrow administration pulled out all the stops on March 27th to try and convince the Belizean people that they should vote YES on April 10th. They gleefully introduced a legal opinion of the 2001 legal opinion which was done by one of the very authors of the said 2001 opinion: a Mr. Schwebel.

Mr. Barrow having recruited the PUP’s Lisa Shoman to help bridge the political divide, stood alone with the aforementioned Shoman at his press conference of March 27th. Said was gone; Godfrey was gone and Assad was gone! Their work was done, but Lisa, Lisa remained! In the intervening period between January 9th and March 27th, Lisa had become Mr. Barrow’s “Mistress of the Brief”!

On March 27th Lisa was clearly ecstatic and she was barely able to control her zest as she pirouetted through Schwebel’s opinion. What Lisa and Mr. Barrow do not seem to realize is that we are not all lawyers and whereas they are always enthused about legal opinions and legal battles the vast majority of us are not.

In fact the average Belizean’s experience with courts has not been pleasant. But the ICJ is not like our Courts they say; the ICJ has 15 judges who preside on every case they say; as if this is supposed to dullen our fears. It seems almost ironic that they are so quick to brag about 15 judges sitting on a case at the ICJ but say nothing about a single judge sitting on a murder trial here; and without a jury!

Lawyers are highly trained professionals and they are by-and-large viewed as people possessed of great minds. However, as of late, Belizeans have become suspicious of lawyers. Whether rightly or wrongly, an increasing number of Belizeans are of the notion that lawyers are driven by the almighty dollar.

Over the past few months, Lisa has become hawkish about her ICJ YES position; never mind that it was only last April that she publicly declared that she could not, under the present conditions, support going to the ICJ. Her appearance on Mr. Barrow’s stage on January 9th and March 27th has therefore caused her to fall under deep suspicion in the eyes of many Belizeans. What really is motivating Lisa? Is she acting out of conviction or is she being sufficiently provoked otherwise?

Beloved, by now you must realize that there is a dark undercurrent that runs through Belize’s politico-legal community; an undercurrent that has cost the Belizean people hundreds of millions of dollars. Dice it how you will but leading members of Belize’s legal fraternity are responsible for a great deal of the pain being felt by the ordinary man and woman. The marriage of law and politics in Belize has not been a blessing for us: it has been anything but!

Two interesting snapshots into this devilish arrangement revolve around the appointment of the Attorney-General [AG] and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Both very important Cabinet positions, but one is anchored constitutionally while the other is not: it is instead a progeny of a politico-legal marriage.

The Belizean constitution makes clear that no one who is not a qualified lawyer can hold the post of Attorney-General. And up until recently, before Mr. Barrow amended the law, a non-elected lawyer could not hold such a post. The implication was therefore that each Party had to ensure that at least one attorney was elected as a Member of Parliament. Today, a lawyer can be brought in through the Senate to fill the post of AG ala the late Mr. B.Q. Pitts [an outstanding Belizean and the first person to become AG using this modality].

No other Cabinet position requires qualified personnel in a particular field and so, for example, we have an electrician as Minister of Health, a fisherman as Minister of Tourism and a footballer as Minister of Economic Development. One must hasten to say that there is nothing wrong with being an electrician, a fisherman or a footballer but you get the drift!

The second but perhaps more insidious feature of the politico-legal marriage is the appointment of Foreign Ministers [FM]. All but one of our FMs, since our independence, have been lawyers. It is as if no one else can perform the functions of this office. If this is so, why didn’t the framers of our Constitution expressly make provisions for such exclusivity as they did with respect to the AG? How is it that since the Right Hon. George Price left that post no other non-lawyer has occupied that office?

Given the fact that for ~35 of the 37 years of our independence our FMs have been lawyers, if we wish to blame anybody for the complete diplomatic collapse in the face of Guatemalan manoeuvrings, we must blame these lawyers. Interestingly, the very lawyers who are responsible for Belize’s diplomatic erosion and the dastardly Compromis were the ones on Mr. Barrow’s stage on January 9th telling us that we should vote YES on April 10th.

My fellow Belizeans – what we witnessed on January 9th was not a bi-partisan approach to the ICJ matter; what we saw was an open display of loyalty to the Fraternity trumping loyalty to Party. They have taught you to put Party over country but they have put their Fraternity over both Party and country. This is fascinating stuff Belize!

Finally, at Mr. Barrow’s March 27th press conference an interesting question was posed to both him and Lisa: how much did Schwebel’s opinion cost? Both refused to answer. In fact they also both refused to answer how much Lisa was being paid for her legal service to us! In response to the question about the compensation for his “Mistress of the Brief” Mr. Barrow indicated that whatever it was, he did not think it was enough.

The last time we heard Mr. Barrow making such remarks was in relation to payments being made to his brother for legal fees. To remind you, Mr. Barrow was paying his brother $1,000/hour, the entire monthly salary for a soldier of the BDF. Is this what Mr. Barrow is paying his “Mistress of the Brief”? And why can’t he say? After all this is the people’s business isn’t it?

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