CCJ rules that Justice Awich is to be considered for investigation by JLSC

Earlier today, the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that the Belize Supreme Court Judge, Justice Awich,  is to be considered for investigation by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC).  In a joint letter dated 17 July 2012, Dean Boyce of British Caribbean Bank Ltd and Lord Michael Ashcroft KCMG, made a request to the JLSC that Mr. Justice Awich should be investigated by the Belize Advisory Council. The request detailed allegations of lack of judicial ‘acumen’, delays in judgment writing and lack of timeliness in the delivery of judgments while Justice Awich was a Judge of the Supreme Court of Belize. The appellants, in that letter, suggested that it should be considered whether the Judge should be removed from office for inability and/or misbehavior. However, The JLSC refused the appellant’s request on the basis that the complaint was directed to matters relating to the performance of the judge in his previous position of Justice of the Supreme Court and therefore had no relation to his present office of Justice of Appeal. The decision of the Commission was successfully appealed at the Supreme Court of Belize but the Court of Appeal disagreed on the matter. So the matter was taken to the CCJ, where today, the CCJ said that a judicial officer’s past conduct, depending on the circumstances, could bear relevance on the question of whether removal from office was warranted. Eamon Courtenay of the Ashcroft Alliance spoke after the session.

Eamon Courtenay, Ashcroft Alliance: The court allowed the appeal and set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal. What does that mean? It means that the complaint that has been filed against Justice Awich is to go back to the Judicial and Legal Services Commission for it to consider whether or not they should refer to the Belize Advisory Council. Originally, the complaint was that Mr. Justice Awich should be removed from office because of his inability to perform his functions as the Supreme Court judge, and for misconduct in the performance of that function. Mr. Justice Abel – well, I should say before that, the Judicial and Legal Services dismissed the complaint on the basis that he had already been appointed the Court of Appeal, and therefore, they cannot review his performance, when he was in the Supreme Court. The clients felt that that was wrong, and they took it to Court. Mr. Justice Abel said that any conduct of a judge, prior to his appointment, is relevant, and the Court of Appeal disagreed. And so, it was taken to the CCJ. The CCJ has now ruled that all prior conduct is relevant, and the Judicial and Legal Services must consider the complaint, and to see whether or not a prima facie case has been made out. If there is sufficient evidence of misbehavior or inability to perform, the matter will be sent to the Belize Advisory Council, which shall sit as a tribunal and actually make findings as to whether or not Justice Awich should be removed.

. According to Courtenay, the complaint made against Justice Awich by Dean Boyce of British Caribbean Bank Ltd and Lord Michael Ashcroft was not personal. Courtenay says that there were evidence based concerns about the way Justice Awich had been performing his function.

Eamon Courtenay, Ashcroft Alliance:  In truth and in fact, what the complaint makes out, and I think what the CCJ has confirmed is that anybody, regardless of who you are, has a right to make a complaint, if you believe that a judge is acting in a particular way, that causes you, or more accurately, the public to lose confidence. I emphasize that because in the case of Justice Awich, the situation, when he was on the Supreme Court, there was a tremendous delay in his writing of decisions. Secondly, there were cases which we identified specifically in the complaint, where he failed to give a fair hearing to litigants. there were cases where one judgment describe his behavior as something that no judge could ever have done. So, there was a real concern, an evidence based concern about the way in which Justice Awich had been performing his function, and why would Lord Ashcroft …. Has raised this concern. Their concern was that they had a lot of cases in the courts, and he was a judge, and there was something, in their view, wrong with the way in which he was performing, and the only way that the constitution provides for that to be dealt with is by making a complaint, so they took their complaint, their constitutional right and made their complaint, and what the CCJ has is that there is something that needs to be considered by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission. So I don’t believe quite frankly that it was a personal matter, I think that there is sufficient evidence there for an inquiry to take place and it’s going to be a matter for the Judicial and Legal Services commission and the Belize Advisory council as to whether or not they think there is sufficient evidence.

.  The Court also awarded costs at the CCJ to the Appellants.

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