The Supreme Court of Belize has given the go-ahead for Oceana Belize to pursue a judicial review which challenges the decision of Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai to disqualify 8,047 of some 20,000 signatures on a petition intended to trigger a national referendum on offshore oil exploration.
Oceana’s Vice president Audrey Matura-Shepherd argued that signatures were disqualified unreasonably, and that Oceana had done enough to show that it had an arguable case.
Mrs. Shepherd said she was elated by the judge’s ruling and indicated that Oceana would now proceed to file its application for full judicial review of Tamai’s decision.
Oceana’s Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Audrey Bradley and Tom Greenwood applied to the court on May 4, for permission to bring an application for judicial review.
The Government objected when Oceana first filed the application. Crown Counsel Andrew Bennett submitted three reasons for its objection: that the application was out of time, that the application must be verified by evidence in affidavits, and that the affidavits which were presented were faulty.
Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith countered that the purpose of the hearing was simply for the Judge to ascertain whether or not the applicants had an “arguable” case, and that the application was neither frivolous nor whimsical.
Smith argued that the manner in which Tamai determined that 8,047 signatures were to be disqualified was “unreasonable” and went against the spirit of the amended Referendum Act.
He said the onus was on Tamai to ensure that the verification process was not “unreasonable” because the decision was one which would affect the statutory rights of those who signed the petition.
Smith made the distinction that the Referendum Act does not call for a verification process, but only for “verification of the signatures of the petitioners and certification that at least ten percent of the registered electors in the country have in fact appended their signatures to the petition.”