On April 3, 2019, the Chief Justice Hon. Kenneth Benjamin delivered his ruling on the injunction case on the referendum planned for April 10, 2019 brought before the Supreme Court of Belize by the Opposition Party. The Opposition had asked the Supreme Court to stop the referendum because they contend that there are serious issues to be tried. The main points presented to the Court by the Opposition were:
I. A substantive point, that the 2008 Special Agreement was illegally and unconstitutionally approved; and
II. A technical point, that the Writ of Referendum (formal written order) was not done properly as per the Referendum Act.
In response to those two points, the Chief Justice ruled that:
I. The 2008 Special Agreement is valid because it was properly executed. The Chief Justice rejected this substantial point.
II. However, the Chief Justice agreed that a technical point, as to the validity of the Writ of Referendum, is a serious issue that should be tried and, therefore, granted an interim injunction until trial of this technical point.
The Chief Justice’s injunction ruling means that the April 10th referendum is to be postponed until a further order of the Court. The Government of Belize (GOB), however, is appealing the decision of the Chief Justice and asking the Court of Appeal to overrule that decision so that the referendum can still take place on April 10th. GOB is asking the Court of Appeal for an expedited hearing with the hope of having the appeal heard by Monday, April 8th.
If the Court of Appeal agrees to hear the case, there may still be a referendum on April 10th depending on the outcome. If the Court of Appeal ruling comes out before April 10th and reverses the Chief Justice’s ruling, the referendum will proceed. The Court of Appeal can discharge the injunction, in which case the referendum would proceed. The referendum will only remain delayed if the ruling comes out before April 10th and upholds the injunction.
Since the only issue the Court of Appeal may find is that the procedures to announce the referendum were not fully proper as per procedural technicalities, the referendum would not be cancelled or deferred to another year. It is the view of the GOB that a worst-case scenario is that there may have to be a Meeting of the House of Representatives to ensure that all the technicalities are done properly. In that event, the referendum would be delayed for no more six to eight weeks.