By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 5th, 2014
Its merits have yet to be fully considered, but the lawsuit brought by Belize Rural North constituent Trevor Vernon earlier this year against his area representative, Hon. Edmond Castro, may not make it to trial, following an application for strike out brought to the Supreme Court on Monday.
Senior Counsel Denys Barrow, representing the Minister of State for Transport (and formerly Civil Aviation), asked Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin to dismiss the matter on the ground that it was an “abuse of process” and had no hope of success as presented.
Castro is accused of a breach of the code of conduct of his office as outlined in the Constitution, and violating the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act.
He is accused of contravening the law when he allegedly accepted money on his own behalf, or through his representatives, from the Belize Airports Authority (BAA), an entity for which Castro held ministerial responsibility as Minister of State.
But in court, Barrow raised the issue of how the application was brought, seeking certain declaratory orders, under the Civil Procedure Rules of the court.
Barrow, speaking to the media after the session, said: “They brought it under a particular provision which deals with administrative law applications, constitutional relief, judicial review and claims for a declaration.
But the particular rule is very clear as to when you can get a declaration, and it states you can get a declaration against the state, against a tribunal, against a court, or against another public body.
“Mr. Castro is not the state, he is not a tribunal, he is not a public body, therefore this claim simply cannot be brought against him.”
Barrow explained that it is “debatable and doubtful” that the allegations made should be given a chance.
But there is, tentatively, the possibility of raising the matter with the Integrity Commission under the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act.
That Act gives the Commission power to start an investigation and lay the ground for criminal charges if desired.
Philip Palacio, attorney for Vernon, responded that what matters more than the “technical” objections raised by the other side is the serious charges levied against Castro as a result of his actions in the BAA matter.
These charges, he said, should be heard in open court, and the Chief Justice, he argued, should give the widest berth in advancing the matter by allowing amendments if needed.
But it was telling that Palacio, under questioning from Chief Justice Benjamin, was unable to articulate precisely what amendments could be made to the claim or the cause of action under which it was brought, leading Senior Counsel Barrow to point out in reply that the matter was “not thought through.”
Castro was guarded in speaking to reporters, saying only that “I guess the attorney said it all. We will have to wait and see on the nineteenth.”
He refused further comment when reporters attempted to question him on other matters.
He has sued whistleblower Alvarene Burgess over her allegation to Channel 5 Television that he was involved in obtaining visa recommendations for Mainland Chinese citizens for a fee.
Vernon, on the other hand, said he hoped that the lawsuit brings awareness and a change in behaviour from the elected political elite.
“I just hope that from here onward, public officials pay keener attention to Section 121 of the Constitution, which talks about not abusing public funds, not taking public funds for private use, keeping up the proper appearance of their office, and living by this code of conduct that they have, because as it stands right now, nobody is really paying… much attention to what the law says.
“Everybody would just get away on technicalities, but we all know it’s prima facie. The man got up and said, in the House of Representatives, that yes he used the money to bury his mom. He didn’t see anything wrong with it.”
A decision will be given on May 19.